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Truly Agile and Adaptable Spaces

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Discussing Corpus Christi Catholic High School

One of the overall goals Architect, Daniel Smith, had when designing new study spaces at Corpus Christi Catholic School was that they needed to be ‘truly agile and adaptable’.

Having worked in the learning environment for the last 13 years Smith admitted when he began working in the big barn style space he thought ‘this is boring’. Over time he developed a deeper inquiry and became more passionate about what he could do to make the learning environment better.

Smith decided to revolutionise those large rooms to create a series of adaptable spaces. The concept was that those spaces could be flipped between instruction and then easily transformed to encourage group work.

Studies have shown that students work better in groups within an environment that allows for collaboration. Its important in large spaces with large volumes of students that those spaces are broken up with a variety of different learning stations. With the BFX Happy Daze booth products, a new and more dynamic spacial experience emerges just by finding the right furniture pieces.

Where furniture pieces that have a little extra height have been placed, students and teachers have found that they felt encompassed and safe enough that learning becomes an environment in which students can feel comfortable in.

Scattering the sled chairs and e-buddy chairs enables kids to sit that are actually comfortable for them. ‘When they’re in that space it’s almost an extension of their lounge room’. They are relaxed, comfortable and engaging in the learning environment.

A series of functional niche spaces have been created that feature screens and e-buddy chairs that can be easily scattered around the space. Mobile resource units such as shelving also serve as additional storage. All tables within these spaces have an interactive whiteboard surface, which encourages mind mapping or brain storming activities between students.

Smith said that ‘one of the other goals within the space is that every surface should have a clear learning intent’. Its evident that the selected furniture pieces accommodate a range of educational needs. Whether it’s the walls around the space, the doors or even the table tops. Its important that the space assists in encouraging fluid communication and exploration of ideas.

Smith is adamant in stepping away from the feel of traditional classrooms of the last hundred years which feature ridged spaces and a sense of enforced conformity. Instructing kids that ‘you’re going to be doing this, wait for your pen license before you can start to write in a note pad,’ is not conductive of the way modern learning is headed.

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Smith firmly believes ‘if you actually get students into a relaxed state, they are more likely to be engaged with their learning’. Corpus Christi is exploring new and more effective learning spaces by ditching the traditional aesthetic of kids lined up in rows, sitting upright, and being instructed from afar.

‘We first started to work with BFX Furniture following their reputation within the Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta. We had been conducting a series of study tours through other schools such as Parramatta Marist and Catholic McAuley.’ According to Smith they’ve since used those schools as inspiration to model the spaces.

‘Using BFX Furniture has been quite a seamless task from my perspective’ Smith said it was just a matter of selecting the right elements to fit the space.

Naturally the selected pieces had to reflect the overall vision, Principal Kerrie Piatek, had for Corpus Christi. Smith commented that the set-up has been highly successful in terms of what they were looking for.

Furthermore, as an architect, Smith said that he was very impressed with BFX Furniture’s catalogue and that detailing of the furniture had an element of elegance to it.  The products are simple and above all, are functional.

Smith also commented that one of the main reasons he enjoyed working with schools was that he felt he was adding to the community by providing uplifting spaces where meaningful contributions can be made.

‘When I also think about how I learned as a student many years ago in those rigid environments, it really did have the impact that if you were capable as a student you would succeed. If you weren’t then you perhaps you would fall behind.’

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‘Since completing this project I’ve started my own business Leaf Architecture – which has been predominately focusing on the school environment.’

‘I started working on this school back in 2004 when it was a block of land. I’m really pleased to see how the school has evolved and how their own understanding of their own pedagogies have grown. Which I believe has been reflected in these spaces and the furniture.’ Smith said.

There must be more schools willing to try new ideas like Corpus Christi within the Wollongong Catholic Education office.

Corpus Christi started in 2006 as essentially an experiment with collaborative learning. Since then these ideas have been tested across their district. More research into the best ways to deliver teaching is definitely as beneficial as new integrated learning spaces.

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Daniel Smith – Architect

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