Décor and colour is a subjective area. One persons taste may not be to another’s. When it comes to communal spaces it can be difficult to suit everyone and many plump for ‘magnolia’ as a neutral non offensive pallet that will ‘go with anything’. Well, it offends me.
Many of my early essays as a student were about colour and the effects it has on people and in some cases animals. There have been studies done on race horses put into blue stables and red stables after races. Horses in the blue stables became quieter sooner, and their temperatures were the first to lower. In 1983 Bridget Riley was commissioned to paint on the walls inside Liverpool hospital. Her use of soothing colours notably reduced vandalism, graffiti and violent behavior within the hospital. There is a science to colour. It affects us physically and mentally. Even shades of a colour have different effects; blues for example can be cool, warm, fresh, dull. There was a fabulous three part series on channel 4 called The Secret Life of Buildings, which looked further into the physical and emotional effects buildings have on their inhabitants. It looked at light, furniture, size of spaces, headroom, outside appearance….
Changing the culture within an organisation is as much about its environment as it is its
staff. It is also far more than just choosing the right colour for the walls and furnishings. It’s about assessing what you want people to feel, how you want them to behave, what you need them to do.
After BSF (building schools for the future) was axed, schools across the country face the same dilemma, no new builds, yet buildings are not meeting the needs of staff and students. We want schools to inspire and motivate, yet tired décor and inappropriate furniture for 21st century teaching and learning fall short of doing so. Budgets are tight, but school maintenance is essential if they are to last the amount of time it takes to sort out the current economic gloom (possibly forever?). So why should that maintenance not include some clever design and more appropriate use of colour and space? Done right, it doesn’t have to cost as much as a new school, but could improve teaching and learning, the mental welfare of staff and students and even address issues such as parental engagement. The biggest improvement to most spaces can be achieved with a simple de-clutter (get me, I’ll be on Changing Rooms next) and better organisation of space. The most dramatic changes to environment come with colour and light. These can be tricky to get right which is why people like me are around to support decisions, but walking around the paint aisles of any hardware store these days gives a wide amount of support and guidance if you’re feeling brave!
But a good space for teaching and learning needs to be more than just colours and configuration of space. It about how it enables the facilitation of learning. Spaces need to encourage collaboration and active involvement in a lesson rather than remaining static ‘chalk and talk’ configuration if we are to educate learners to excel in the 21st century. Spaces need to be multifunctional. Displays which last a year paying homage to well finished pieces of work need to be rethought. How does what we put on our walls inspire learners? Does it provoke a response? Does it value the process of learning? Does anyone even look at it? How does it support teaching and learning in your environment?
At Cardinal Wiseman School in Coventry I am involved in a rolling programme of relooking and rethinking spaces. So far we have redesigned reception to celebrate what happens inside the school and promote better relationships with parents and visitors. We have set up a sustainable resource space which inspires students and staff. We have transformed an underused cupboard into a Maths intervention room and redesigned the staffroom to encourage better use from all staff to promote dialogue and sharing good practice across departments, to name just a few and the work continues.
At Brooke Special School in Rugby we worked with staff and students in Post 16 to
enhance curriculum delivery of real-life skills through developing their environment. Students designed, budgeted and decorated their space. The project has given them a great sense of ownership and achievement, developed and number of skills including literacy and numeracy and has transformed it into an adult learning environment where the students are acting accordingly.
I’m passionate about the aesthetics of a space and good design, but never at the compromise of functionality, and certainly never promote the use of magnolia.