Design for learning at BSN Connect (ii) – The Trivium

Design for learning at BSN Connect (ii) – The Trivium

Human interaction and desired behaviour is the basis for architectural decision making. Fundamentally, how many people will occupy the areas, for what function and in what volume of space? This is the challenge in creating a design for learning.

I had a great conversation with Martin Robinson a couple of weeks ago. His book “Trivium 21c”  and the medieval mantra of grammar, dialectic, and rhetoric as a timeless sequence for learning has always had resonance. The subtitle of the book, “preparing young people for the future with lessons from the past” provides a great counterpoint to popular, hole-in-the-wall, 21st Century skills visions of the future – which are often, at best, uncritical. You can read my review of “Trivium 21c” here.

Martin and I were on the phone for 30 minutes; his classical training was quick-fire and deep. My questions were: “Could the model of the Trivium manifest itself in a design for learning? And could we draw from classical exemplars to inform the use of space in BSN Connect?”

It is important we can explain the rationale for the decision making process and, for me, there is a link between the structure of learning spaces described in my previous post and the Trivium mantra so that:

Grammar = Campfire – (the transmission of expertise and committing ideas and knowledge to memory);

Dialectic  = Watering-hole – (debating and justifying these ideas with others – formally and informally);

Rhetoric = Mountain top – (presenting synthesis and new learning with skill and confidence).

To give one example, our theatre space in BSN Connect will have all three of the learning purposes above; it could even be someone’s cave when empty.

An ancient Greek bouleuterion – a potential model for our theatre

When sharing the design brief with architects we have been determined to make a clear connection between the use of space and the transmission of knowledge. BSN Connect has to contribute to improved academic and pastoral outcomes. For example, it needs an open exhibition space and interactive museum in which:

  • Study could be centred around half-termly themes with exhibitions, events, performances and presentations from internal and external experts that tie-in across our 3-18 curriculum. Apparatus, collections, books, paintings and other resources will add a unique dimension;
  • The use of immersive technology in, say, biology to explore the workings of the human body, or in engineering or history such as those used in the visitor centre at Waterloo where the battle is recreated, among other exhibits, with the use of 3D video.
  • Live broadcasts can be beamed into our other campuses to widen the impact.

This area, accessible to the whole community, will be designed to deliver the grammar, the stimuli, the campfire narrative that leads onto discussion, exploration and presentation. BSN Connect would have its own interpretation of the classical piazza – a place of communal sharing; the cultural transmission of what we believe to be important in learning how to live a good life.

Siena – The medieval Piazza del Campo

One way to future proof BSN Connect will be to draw from human precepts we know have worked since antiquity. These may also help us to explain the purpose of the building to the many different types of user – students, staff, parents, visiting speakers.

I recommend you read “Trivium 21c” in its entirety. I cannot claim that Martin Robinson will endorse what is written here but I can thank him for the inspiration to join some ideas together. Having said that, I must confess that BSN Connect will probably look more Le Corbusier than Neo-Classical, more Bauhaus than Bath… but form must follow function.

We are in the unique position of being able to design our own building programme for learning. For that reason a decision making process with value drivers grounded in philosophical principles should ensure that:

” Everyone who comes into BSN Connect will be inspired whatever their age. BSN Connect should, by creating internal and external connections, enrich learning and experience.  BSN Connect will effectively become a learning HQ for every member of our community.”