I am a big fan of cat videos, particularly the ones where you watch them trying to fit themselves into different kinds of boxes. It must be frustrating for cat lovers who desperately attempt to lure their cats with fancy devices. Interestingly, babies are not that different. Many children find the ordinary enticing. Some like matchboxes or a piece of fabric surrounding the branded toys.
The Guggenheim, the art museum designed by the architect Frank Lloyd Wright, created quite a stir when it first opened. It disrupted the ‘ordinary’ museum space. Several prominent artists like Willem de Kooning, Milton Avery and others protested against this space. They claimed its innovative curvilinear slopes disregarded their traditional rectilinear art, subsuming art to architecture. While few would argue against The Guggenheim being a ground-breaking space, the artists had a point. Art competes with architecture. Attention is duly divided.
This brings me to the classroom. The four walls and the whiteboard. The design from the last century. Some even claim that lecture halls and classrooms will soon become “relics of our educational past.”
There is a growing disdain for the traditional, the ordinary, the boring. Many experiments are currently being conducted to envision the future of the classroom, one which captures the ideals and priorities of the 21st century – open innovation, inclusiveness and initiative.
New learning cultures need new spatial designs it seems. New technologies are being embedded for faculty-student collaboration. Experiments in Spain emphasise how greenery can enhance the cognitive development of children. In Denmark, there are some classrooms with no walls, allowing the noise to drift from one learning space to another. This is meant to focus the attention of students. The use of glass signals transparency and openness.
This comes with a price tag. Millions are spent on such ‘flexible’ and ‘open’ spaces. Another divide alas for the majority of educational environments with scarce resources. There is hope though. Let us not forget the teacher as a powerful architect.
There is something delightful about bringing to life entire worlds in the space of the mundane. Through Socratic dialogue, one can bring colour into a conversation in the classroom. For a teacher, the blank walls can be a canvas to play with. The fact is – words can shape space just as much, or even more as they tap into the infinite imagination of the child.
Payal Arora is Associate Professor at the Erasmus School of History, Culture and Communication