Elmstudio’s En Archipel project has not only come up with furniture to support less hierachical educational spaces, but devised a digital learning method to go with it.
Architects, for the most part, are interested in designing schools. It appeals to the underlying belief that better buildings make better people – what greater way to nuture the citizens of tomorrow than with
a progressive learning environment? In recent years, this has meant stripping out old frameworks seen as too hierarchical, classrooms and corridors for example, and replacing them with more fluid spaces populated with breakout furniture.
However, it is rare to see a design integrated wholesale into the curriculum. Paris-based Eliumstudio has attempted precisely that with a conceptual project entitled En Archipel (‘in archipelago’). Part-funded by not-for-profit organisation VIA (Valorization of Innovation in Furnishing), it was developed over the course of a year.
On initial impressions, the islands of informal furniture (which give the project its name) have an air of familiarity, but these bones have more meat. The furniture is designed for project-based rather than subject-based learning by encouraging collaboration and sharing of ideas. However, the linchpin of the design is the hexagonal tablet each student carries, which stores their class notes, timetables and a library and allows them to check what’s for lunch.
Students and teachers create the tablet’s content, from educational games and blogs to old-fashioned maps and pie charts. Information is easily shared between pupil and teacher, creating continuity between individual and collaborative work. Through cloud technology the school can also build relationships with wider organisations such as local museums or sports centres. And when they’re not in use, the tablets form an interactive feature wall that provides bulletins about the school day.
The interior design reads as a series of landscapes adjusted to the tasks at hand. At the heart of the building is the Incubator – an open-plan area populated by reconfigurable tables and seating. Pupils sit on stools that are weighted at the bottom, Weeble-like, to encourage a balanced posture. L’Hermitage is a quiet study area with low-level stepped seating, configurable cushions and room dividers. Replacing the traditional auditorium is Le Plateau, which again allows pupils to build little castles on which to sit and view video presentations.
The studio says that En Archipel received a favourable response when presented to the French Ministry of Education, but just how much traction the concept gains remains to be seen. But at the very least, the studio has thought beyond the nuts and bolts of interior architecture towards something more comprehensivel.