Masterplanning for Happier Healthier Schools

Last Friday I was fortunate to facilitate a workshop on behalf of the Queensland Chapter of Learning Environments Australasia, on embedding wellbeing in to school masterplanning.

We had some very special guests joining us on the day – high school students from Australian Industry Trade College, architecture and interior architecture students from QUT, and over 40 industry professionals from education, architecture and planning fields from around Brisbane. I always believe the most successful educational projects are achieved through authentic and respectful collaboration, and this was clearly evident by the robust discussions occurring around the room.

We started our day with presentations by four AITC students as they explained some of the designs they have investigated to increase wellbeing, incorporating both mental and physical health, within their existing school. It was so great to see the way the students have been figuring out their projects, with sketching, user surveys and creating an amazing Minecraft model of their existing spaces.
Following this, the QUT students examined the students’ opinions, ideas and hopes for the future of schooling and gained some insight into the learning model employed at AITC, which all students seemed to appreciate and value. It was heartening to hear so much positivity from the AITC students as they explained how their school currently works and what they do there.

After hearing from all of our students, we got stuck into masterplanning our theoretic school site. Our first activity was to examine and understand our site better through physical and cultural analysis, incorporating aspects like spaces for people vs cars, entries / access and school heart, considering Country and connections to community. Based on this process of investigation and forming assumptions, each group named their school and it was great to see the aspirational goals shared within the names, like Heart Tree School, Connection College, Yackandandah Academy for Youth (YAY!), Healthy Heart High School and Middle Grove State School.

As our school is theoretical and we had no pre-existing strategic vision or values like we would usually base a masterplan on, we gave each of the groups a random four of the wellbeing strategies to incorporate into their design. These strategies included practise kindness, fill your stomach, question what you see, reconnect with nature and smile, amongst others. It was great to see how the different groups approached the strategies from different directions and came up with some really creative solutions.

While each group came up with their own ideas there were a number of common threads throughout the schemes.
Interesting, in their presentations, very few groups mentioned classrooms. All the installations included numerous other learning spaces, both as buildings and outdoor spaces. These spaces were caves and castles and cones of silence and treehouses and lotus pods and even a TARDIS. It was great to see lots of alternatives being proposed for learning spaces.
Most groups, regardless of the wellbeing strategies they received, wanted more nature, more green space and more connection between inside and outside. Many groups incorporated some form of agriculture, from veggie patches and chickens to full scale cropping and cattle pastures. Most groups were also keen to incorporate natural water treatment/ learning in the form of natural creeks and watercourse, and a natural swimming pool and lagoon.
Another interesting common thread was the connection between the school and the wider community. Shared community facilities like libraries, business centres, industry workshops, gyms and sports centres could be located either on the school or within the adjacent community. Either way, the ability for students to learn from real-life experience of the wider community was seen as a benefit to not just the school but to industry partners as well.

The final common thread I really enjoyed was the idea of bringing fun back into learning. Schools should be a place where students want to go to, much as the AITC expressed they feel about their current school. Learning can be fun, and it can be play, and it can be community. It was great to have this focus on enjoyment brought through so many of the design concepts.

We appreciated everyone being so giving of their time on a Friday afternoon and the designs the groups came up with were so insightful. Thank you to Rhys from AITC and Melanie and Melissa from QUT for allowing us to learn from and with your students. We know the future is in safe hands with these creative, articulate, informed and impactful young people.

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