School, college or university is typically the most important indoor environment for young people outside of their home. So designing and building education spaces that inspire successful learning while also supporting students’ health and wellbeing is crucial. By creating facilities that are exciting, supportive and conducive to a healthy lifestyle, leaders in the education sector can provide environments that not only contribute positively to wellbeing, but also promote success, satisfaction and holistic development. But with so many factors to consider, what are the must haves when it comes to education design and build?

1. Understand user experience

Firstly, and central to any design process in any sector, is gathering user-insight. If you don’t know what students want and need in order to thrive, how can you create a learning environment which is tailored to their requirements and provide an experience and a space that they will value and excel in? Gathering students’ views and ideas at the start of the development process, will provide valuable insight and can be utilised to inform the design.  

2. Provide comfort and choice

Providing a comfortable learning environment will not only help to improve the wellbeing of students, but also have a significant impact on the overall success of their studies, through increased performance and productivity, and reduced absenteeism. Incorporating a range of agile settings which allow students the freedom to choose how and where they study or to relax and socialise in outside of lessons or lectures, can help with this.

Whether this is individual studying at a traditional desk, at a stand-up desk, in a comfortable open-plan booth, in a sound proofed quiet pod, or within collaborative, creative areas, it’s all about choice. In our project with The University of Chester, we incorporated a range of spaces throughout the facility, to ensure the hub encouraged connectivity, collaboration and productivity among its students.

The inclusion of wellness rooms are also increasingly popular within education facilities; these are often set away from busier areas and are designed to be a place where students can go in between study sessions for quiet reflection, relaxation and to refocus away from the pressures of university.

3. Let there be light

Natural light is proven to deliver a range of benefits to students’ physical health and wellbeing, from enhancing alertness and cognitive skills to improving sleep and regulating moods and behaviour. So by strategically locating areas where students spend the majority of their day, such as a seminar room or the library, close to natural light, you can help students stay engaged, motivated and comfortable. 

Supporting natural light with controllable lighting solutions will further aid comfort. Spaces which demand heightened concentration from students, should be bright and well-lit to support focus, whereas breakout areas or wellness rooms, will benefit from ambient lighting, to create a comfortable and calm environment.

4. Minimise distractions

Excessive noise levels are associated with discomfort, irritation, headaches and stress-related conditions, so it’s important to prioritise acoustic performance. Acoustic panels, walls, ceiling tiles, flooring, sound-absorbing materials and even furniture, will limit sound movement through a space, and reduce external noise. In large spaces like lecture halls, the strategic application of acoustic panelling on high ceilings will minimise reverberation, while incorporating curtains in seminar rooms can help to absorb sound and minimise echo.

5. Regulate temperature

Creating thermal comfort can be a challenge due to the influence of personal preference as well as external environmental factors, but it can have a significant impact on productivity and wellbeing of students. If a space is too warm or too cold, students’ attention diverts from their task at hand to the discomfort they’re experiencing. There is also some guidance that must be followed in this area – the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992, for example, which applies to all workplaces and education facilities, states that the temperature should be at least 16°C.

Ensuring your facility is designed with a controllable heating and cooling system throughout will support with regulating the temperature. The installation of thermostats and sensors in strategic locations throughout the building(s) will also allow temperature to be monitored and regulated, ensuring it remains within the optimal range for comfort, as well as adhering to health and safety regulations.

6. Maximise air quality

Poor air quality has been linked to increased health problems, absenteeism and reduced academic performance, highlighting the importance of clean and fresh air in education facilities. Ventilation is one key factor in improving air quality, but just opening windows isn’t enough and isn’t always appropriate. For example, universities in urban areas are more than likely to be located near to high traffic areas, so opening windows will make students vulnerable to air and noise pollution. A design and build partner with in-house M&E expertise will be able to advise on an appropriate ventilation strategy for your facility.

7. Provide access to nature

Whether through access to outdoor areas or biophilic design features, connection to nature is proven to actively contribute to improving mental health and wellbeing, which for students can result in improved focus, creativity and mood. In a university setting, outdoor space may focus on quiet gardens, or areas with comfortable seating. Whereas biophilic features such as planting and water features throughout the facility, can bring the outside indoors, and provide access to nature even when being outdoors isn’t possible.

8. Consider colour psychology

The impact of colour psychology in education design is often underestimated, despite its role in shaping how students experience different emotions when exposed to certain colours. Blue, for example, is known to trigger productivity and focus, so is a natural choice, while red is associated with feelings of urgency and can also cause fatigue, so its overuse could have a negative impact. University students typically prefer pastel, cooler shades that create a calming atmosphere, perfect for focussed studying.

Lesson summary

While starting a new college, school, or university can be an exciting time, academic pressures, financial worry, a new social setting, and in the case of university, the move to independent living, can take its toll on students’ mental and health and wellbeing. Education providers have a responsibility to ensure they provide students with a facility that not only enhances their educational needs but also supports their mental and physical health and wellbeing.

If you’re struggling to know where to start with the design and build of your education space, or considering redeveloping your estate, our talented team of workplace consultants can provide the advice needed to create a transformational environment which inspires the next generation.

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