Home' Teacher : April 2010 Contents FEATURE -- SCHOOL DESIGN 45
'Education,' as Loris Malaguzzi, the founding Director of the Reggio Emilia education
project once put it, 'must come to be recognised as the product of complex interactions,
many of which can only be realised when the environment is a fully-participating element.'
The interior environment of new buildings at Dandenong High School in Melbourne's
eastern subu rbs is a fully-participating element that provides a 'landscape' of possibilities,
where people and ideas may flow and connect.
The intent of the design is to closely support and reflect the school's beliefs about young
people and learning, an example of 'built pedagogy,' to use the phrase of Torin Monahan,
Associate Professor of Human and Organisational Development at Vanderbilt University
in Nashville, Tennessee, in the United States.
Creating a new school involves countless decisions, but what actually determines the
choices that are made? The education rationale for the Dandenong Education Precinct was
'to inculcate a love for learning and curiosity for inquiry' and 'to understand the learner
and the learning process.'
The interior design of the new buildings responds to this contemporary and collabora-
tive rationale for learning and teaching. Detailed development of the school's vision and
pedagogical practice has evolved over more than two years through a highly participatory
process involving all staff and students.
With support from the school and the Victorian Department of Education and Early
Childhood Development (DEECD), I undertook an action research project to link pedagogy
to design of the learning environment. A prototype environment for Year 7 students was
created in an existing portable classroom and provided a test bed for ideas. The design of
the physical environment for the new buildings could then evolve from the 'inside-out,'
to use a term from the education researcher Catherine Burke, from Britain's University of
Cambridge, in describing a collaborative approach to building a learning culture and school
ethos based on shared values and beliefs.
Tight building deadlines at Dandenong High meant that decisions about spatial configu-
ration and fitout were required long before pedagogy had taken shape. A decision was taken
by the school leaders and architect, supported by the DEECD, to proceed with construction
of the buildings as shells with minimal internal load-bearing walls. Detailed development
of internal spaces could then grow out of the school's reconceptualised pedagogy.
As Erik Roelofs, Jacqueline Visser and Jan Terwel point out, in 'Preferences for various
learning environments: teachers' and parents' perception,' evidence over many decades indi-
cates that radical educational innovations fail when they're not 'owned' by the protagonists,
or don't have supportive physical environments.
A community of learners
The learning framework at Dandenong High is based upon a collaborative approach:
teacher-teacher, student-student and student-te acher. At the hea rt of all de velopm ent dis -
cussions was a concern for the nature and quality of human relationships, especially a
concern that each student and teacher could develop a sense of belonging to a community
The decision to form 'communal homes' -- communities comprising 50 students with a
team of three teachers -- generated the spatial characteristics of the interior environment. Each
floor plate comprises an assemblage of discrete settings interlinked to form a flowing space.
SCHOOL DESIGN INVOLVES MORE THAN BUILDING A BUILDING,
EXPLAINS MARY FE ATHE RSTON; IT INVOLVES BUILDING A
LEARNING CULTURE -- AND THAT INVOLVES EVERYONE.
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