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The knowledge culture megatrend

How architecture and education influence each other

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The level of education worldwide is higher than ever before. With the constant advance of digitalisation, we are experiencing an unprecedented degree of connectivity that is influencing our knowledge and the way in which we learn. “Knowledge culture” relates to how we as a society handle knowledge. According to the futurologists at the Zukunftsinstitut, the knowledge culture megatrend is set to transform “what we know and how we know it”.

Knowledge is increasingly being generated in decentralised structures and is therefore available to the general population almost directly in digital form. This is triggering a wave of innovation in learning and research methods. Education is becoming less elitist as a result. Educational establishments are faced with the challenge of keeping up with the pace of change and are forced to constantly scrutinise themselves. This is having a significant impact on the architecture of our nurseries, schools and universities. But it is also influencing the design of museums, offices and other culturally relevant buildings.

A light-flooded educational establishment with a huge glass facade and nature in the background.

This light-flooded library in Malmö, Sweden, with a welcoming atmosphere combines the best of education and architecture. (Photo: Drahomir Posteby-Mach, Unsplash)

What is knowledge culture actually?

The term “knowledge culture” describes how we as a society handle information, how we acquire knowledge and share it. Our knowledge culture changed rapidly as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and is becoming more and more digital. We no longer learn solely in classrooms and from books. Home-schooling, education on-demand and educational establishments that can guarantee nationwide access to the Internet are becoming the new normal. As it moves into the digital sphere, education is losing its elitist character. It is becoming easier and easier to acquire knowledge. Vast quantities of information that the general population can access are being generated every day in decentralised structures such as the Internet.

This is triggering a transformation of our knowledge culture. Our attention is increasingly focusing on how we handle the flood of information and the ability to organise sources, data and knowledge. Forms of learning such as traditional front-of-class teaching are becoming less relevant. They are being replaced by new approaches like lifelong learning, free creativity and collaboration both in educational establishments and in the world of work. But in order to integrate these new learning approaches into the worlds of education and work, the existing spatial structures need to change.

An overcrowded lecture theatre during a conventional class.

An image that will soon belong to the past? Conventional front-of-class teaching in overcrowded lecture theatres is increasingly being replaced with other models. (Photo: Edwin Andrade, Unsplash)

An architecture for the school of the future

One development within the knowledge culture cosmos is the merging of architecture and education, otherwise known as “edutecture”. With its new interior concepts, edutecture is creating the environment for the learning of the future. But these ideas can also be applied to research institutes, museums and offices. In this context, the Zukunftsinstitut has put forward four parameters that can serve as a future guide for an architecture that aims to improve learning ability and performance.

  1. Air
    The air that we need to breathe is just as vital to our performance. This has been demonstrated by several studies that examined ventilation in educational settings during the coronavirus pandemic. Improving the air quality resulted in a demonstrable improvement in pupils’ performance in the studies. Spaces that allow pupils to retreat and reflect also have a beneficial effect on concentration and learning behaviour.
  2. Light
    The influence of light has a similarly positive effect on pupils. A report in the Journal of Environmental Psychology back in 2013 revealed that bright light of around 1500 lux measurably increases cognitive ability. It’s worth noting here that both artificial and natural light can boost concentration. On the other side, dimmed light can foster creativity. An important aspect to consider for lighting design in educational establishments.
  3. Noise quality
    Things get a bit more complicated when it comes to noise quality. Some people need complete silence to be able to learn, while others require a certain level of background noise. When looking for a compromise in the room acoustics that meets the needs of both sides, it makes sense to design open and, above all, multifaceted learning spaces that also include places for quiet retreat.
  4. Love
    Yes, that’s right! Studies have found that bringing love into the design of educational establishments can improve learning ability. Using calming materials such as wood or lovingly designed furniture can be conducive to increased performance and concentration.

A woman explaining something on a computer to a man.

The number one future skill. Knowing how to use digital devices and acquiring digital literacy are becoming more and more important. Anyone who can’t keep up will be left behind. (Photo: Desola Lanre-Orogun, Unsplash)

Closing the digital divide

One of the biggest challenges for the design of modern educational settings is closing the digital divide. There are still huge differences in access to technologies that are immensely important for communication and information gathering. According to the Zukunftsinstitut, children whose parents can provide them with laptops and help with technical problems have a clear advantage.

Everybody should have equal opportunities to gain digital literacy. Flexible and agile interior scenarios that integrate digital technologies into what have usually been purely analogue concepts can bridge the gap. At the same time, traditional classrooms and lecture theatres in which learners stoically listen to the teacher, largely disengaged, are becoming increasingly passé.

Educational establishments need to become more digital. They must ensure equal opportunities for learners who have been disadvantaged up until now due to a lack of access to information and communications technologies. But one thing must not be forgotten as they make this transition: Physical learning spaces have to be attractive as well. Otherwise, at some point, education may shift entirely to virtual spaces . Incorporating elements of playfulness into the interior design is one way to foster this new kind of innovative and productive learning experience.

The future of the megatrend

Where will this megatrend take us in the long run? Is it possible today to predict which approaches will be widely adopted? Can we say what our educational structure will look like in 20 years’ time, let alone in 50? The Zukunftsinstitut has dared to look into the crystal ball and put forward some key theses for the future of knowledge culture. The most important point for the interior design and architecture industries: We will learn in a different way.

Learning will increasingly be seen as a lifelong process that enables us to constantly adapt to new situations – and this is the mindset educational establishments must embrace. Alongside this, there will be growing demand for transformative learning that addresses issues such as how to cope with crises, uncertainty and change – a crucial future skill. When it comes to designing appropriate environments for these approaches to learning, ageless living strategies and modular concepts are ideally suited.