Keep on Learning

Two weeks ago I attended Talking Spaces 9, which included a reflection on the last ten years LEaRN have been investigating, learning about and understanding learning spaces. It got me to thinking about my own ten year journey into learning the why, where and how we learn – both as school students and as architectural practitioners. Which brings me to one of my biggest learning influences, that started exactly ten years ago – the Mayfield Project.

The Mayfield Project is a research program run by Learning Environments Australasia, that brings together a dedicated, passionate group of young architects, educators, planners, facilitators and thinkers as we research together an aspect of current learning space theory. This project has been one of the single most influential drivers in developing my thirst for collaboration, learning, understanding and research. So how does it make such a difference? Let’s go back to where it all began…

In 2009, we developed the idea to bring together young learning space professionals to develop research, collaborate across continents and present at the 2010 CEFPI Regional Conference. It was a big bold plan but people were keen and passionate and we made fantastic connections. As both a member of my group and the organiser of the team presentations, I met some amazing people like Fiona Young (now Uni of Melbourne PhD candidate and Hayball Sydney Studio Director), Ben Cleveland (now Dr, lecturer and research fellow at LEaRN), Lisa Horton (now incredibly accomplished education consultant), Lara Mackintosh (now senior lecturer of architecture at Notre Dame University in Freo), Alistair Blythe (analyst, strategist and consultant with the OECD), and many more. What this crazy group of passionate learners taught me about how to collaborate, share and dive deep in my thinking, was invaluable. As we all researched our separate facets of what makes a difference to learning (the environment, the landscape, the curriculum, the learner, and/or the community) we also researched how we learn as a collective, especially across continents and time zones. The excitement of sharing new ideas, the commitment to early morning video conferences, the connection across countries, and how to stay true to a research idea when you’re not sitting with the other researchers face-to-face. I learnt so much through this process.

Following this up two years later we investigated schools as sanctuaries of hope within the community. Following on from some devastating natural disasters, teams investigated how we might bring community together after these events, to rebuild and become stronger. The presentation from the Melbourne team about the response to the Black Saturday fires was especially compelling. And an amazing outcome that came from this was the connection between Matiwpili, Tanzania and a group of designers, teachers and students in Perth, who went on to design and construct the Trade Training Centre at the Matiwpili school. This project is so successful because of the initial research around communication, working in developing areas and understanding long-term needs. These are real built outcomes coming from a research base, and show why research is so important to architectural practice.

Jumping two years forward again, and I was lucky enough to get a third berth at the research programme, albeit I was pushing the ‘young’ professionals side of things a bit by this stage! Within this program we looked at how neighbourhoods of learning can be created for lifelong learning and shared aspirations. Our group specifically focused on Fremantle with its connections between private, public and community facilities. We prepared a research paper on the opportunities to co-share community facilities and how to create connections between disparate learning institutions, which was subsequently presented to the City of Fremantle for consideration in their planning, as they were investigating the amalgamation of various local senior schools. This process of research, analysis and presentation of ideas for real-world implications is such a good experience to be part of, as a ‘break’ from the usual work day.

Finally, last year I took part in a really exciting collaboration with NoTosh, who basically inspired me to think differently about not just learning, but about how and why we continue to strive to change the world around us through creating better learning environments. I’ve written about the amazing work of NoTosh before but the way that this process allowed me to expand my thinking became a key skill in how I communicate with clients, consultants, builders and the many others we interact with in the architecture industry, by changing our perceptions and understanding of difference.

The things I have learnt through each project have been invaluable to me as I have developed my practice. I could not have imagined this journey a decade ago when we first set off to bring people together to collaborate and learn. Now, ten years later, I consider many of the people from those first projects amongst my dearest friends. I am so grateful for the connections I have made through these projects, the ideas I have researched, the technologies I have discovered and the opportunities this program has afforded me.

All of these events of learning have been interpreted and interwoven into my practice as an education architect. It has been wonderful to have the opportunity to learn, explore, create and share, outside of the confines of client expectations and budget constraints. I encourage everyone to keep on learning, growing and sharing, and appreciating all the wonderful research around learning environments that we have access to today. This integration of research into practice is what makes us stronger as a profession.

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