Architecture for Learning: The Importance of the Built Environment

Recently I’ve been reading Hagel, Brown and Davison’s From Push to Pull and  Richard Florida’s Who’s Your City and have come to the conclusion that architecture and the design of physical and social space is important to learning and education.  Both books suffer to a certain extent because they are based on data that is primarily correlational not causal, but they do help to make a strong case that:

  1. Learning throughout one career(s) is more important that ever for individual and organizational success.
  2. Social space is important to enable and deepen learning.  The conversations and social interactions we are involved in have a strong effect our thinking and the built environment could have a significant impact on shaping social interaction.
  3. While the internet has enabled conversation without regard for distance,  most social interaction still our in physical space and tacit aspects of learning are still important.
  4. The physical and social design of space has an important effect on who we find in our spaces and what conversations we have there.  I think this is especially true for people together from different disciplines.
  5. Most new knowledge and new ideas today require creative processes, most creative process depend on synthesis and the cross-disciplinary fertilization of new ideas, the design of social space is important in bringing about cross-disciplinary fertilization.

Let’s bring another idea into play, the movement from the production of products to the production of experience.  Apple makes money selling various computing devices, but they compete on the basis of consumer’s computing experiences.  The desire fro experience will also change builders and architects.

I think Rob Pitingolo’s post make a good point about choosing where to live when he says:

(A)menities are great once you’re settled in a city. But they aren’t necessarily the things that draw people there in the first place.  Now, ask someone who is transplanting themselves to a city like New York or Chicago and there is a decent chance they will say the things they find appealing include: the vibrancy, the energy, the freshness, the opportunity, the culture.

Rob is right when he goes on to say that these are abstract ideas, but I would also say that what these people are really looking for is the quality of their everyday experience.  That is the job of architecture today; to design social spaces around experiences.  And it is not just for individuals either.  If I am the CEO of a biotech start-up, a bank, or any business that depends on innovation, I care not only about who to hire, but also about putting them in the social space where they can be most effective.  I need them to be someplace that is fresh, vibrant and full of good energy. The American Institute of Architects discusses designing spaces for knowledge communities, but John Hagel et al make it clear that these communities need to go far beyond the university campus to our everyday spaces.  Yes, you want to hire smart people, but their most important learning will occur after you hire them and you want them in a space where their learning and success can be maximized.

Architects have designed amazing buildings, but we also need amazing communities and architects also have an important role there.

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