Don Baus, AIA, LEED AP on how design of learning environments impacts learning and development.
Winston Churchill once said, “We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us.”
The Covid-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on our communities’ schools as administrators navigate the minefield of political and safety considerations for reopening schools. Meanwhile, disruptions to home life persist as parents and guardians continue to juggle virtual, hybrid and adjusted school schedules with their own jobs, all while trying to maintain the mental health of both their children and themselves. From the cacophony of differing opinions on whether schools should open and how they may do so safely, there has been a common understanding that children need to be in school. From the structure of the environment, to the respite from difficult home environments, the importance the learning environment plays in child development and psychological wellbeing has been placed in the forefront. Recent developments in the field of neuroscience have also provided insights into how the architectural profession can measure not only how design influences behaviors and performance in a post-occupancy environment, but can also guide the design of learning environments so that they are truly part of the developmental equation. 
Many empirical studies support the effects of design on the environment and learning. For example, proper daylighting can help produce higher test scores, certain colors can induce feelings of relaxation or excitement, and images of nature can help to reduce stress and anxiety.  Architects can play a critical role in their ability to intuit these relationships between design and wellbeing—and by using a more cognitive approach to design—they can more predictably support the educators and administrators in holistically improving the learning process. While architects often reference a “kit of parts” in the published literature on design of learning environments , understanding the impact of these design decisions on students and educators is critical. It can provide a much deeper understanding of the effects of school environments on learning and inform how seemingly arbitrary decisions on form can have a meaningful and measurable impact on student outcomes. 
Similar to how imagery can induce feelings of fear, anxiety or pain, architectural form can also elicit neurological responses. For example, in a preference study on everyday objects, researchers found individuals had a preference for curved objects versus pointed objects, positing that it may be due to an innate fear of what a sharp object may represent. Similarly, it has been shown that hospital patients often have better outcomes when exposed to artwork with natural scenes over the rectilinear imagery of abstract art. 
If we can apply these design lessons to high stress environments such has hospitals, we should equally apply the same rigor to the design of educational environments that can have just as critical of an impact on human wellbeing and development. While collaboration between neuroscientists and architects is in its infancy, architects can begin by gaining insights from existing studies on the effects of environments on neurobiological processes and the neural and physiological responses to environmental features. If architects can build their understanding of not only how design can affect their end users, but also of their neurobiological response to those decisions, then our design can truly be part of the learning and development of the student and person as a whole.
 Coburn, Alex, Oshin Vartanian, and Anjan Chatterjee. 2017. “Buildings, Beauty, and the Brain: A Neuroscience of Architectural Experience”.
Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience 29 (9): 1521-1531. doi: https://doi.org/10.1162/jocn_a_01146.
 Nanda, Upali, Debajyoti Pati, Hessam Ghamari, and Robyn Bajema. 2013. “Lessons from neuroscience: form follows function, emotions follow form”. Intelligent Buildings International 5 (sup1): 61-78. doi: https://doi.org/10.1080/17508975.2013.807767.
 Nair, Prakash, and Randall Fielding. 2005. The Language of School Design: Design Patterns for 21st Century Schools. 1st ed. DesignShare.
 Coburn, Vartanian, and Chatterjee. “Buildings, Beauty”.
Don, the Chief Operations Officer of SGA|NW and Partner of the firm, has over 25 years of experience designing and managing projects, specializing in K-12 education. His role as Principal allows him to oversee design, production, project management, and client relations. Don is currently working with Charleston County School District on the new West Ashley Center for Advanced Studies, with Richland School District Two on renovations to Ridge View High School, and with Dorchester School District Two on the design of a new middle school at Beech Hill.