A visualization of the data revealed in the new classroom environments report.
Credit: Courtesy of the University of Salford and Nightingale Associates Architects A visualization of the data revealed in the new classroom environments report.

Architects have long appreciated the benefits of good design, but the general public has not always understood the strong correlation between good design and human performance. A recent study of classroom environments conducted by the University of Salford in Manchester, England, and UK's Nightingale Associates Architects provides some much-needed validity to this connection.

Researchers tracked 751 students and 34 different classrooms in Blackpool, UK. Design factors included spatial organization and flexibility, classroom orientation, natural light, noise, temperature, air quality, and color. In their report, the research team determined that classroom design can influence a student's academic performance by up to 25 percent. Moreover, the influence upon a student in one of the best-designed classrooms versus an otherwise equal student in one of the worst-designed equates to a year of academic progress.

“It has long been known that various aspects of the built environment impact on people in buildings, but this is the first time a holistic assessment has been made that successfully links the overall impact directly to learning rates in schools," said Peter Barrett, professor of the University of Salford School of the Built Environment. "The impact identified is in fact greater than we imagined and the Salford team is looking forward to building on these clear results.”

Thankfully, the study has been highly influential thus far, and is being used to argue

 for better schools in the UK. Although any analysis of this kind runs the risk of reducing the design process to a series of simple steps (e.g., pick a flattering versus an ugly color), strong evidence-based design will continue to be a critical tool for architecture as well as its inhabitants.

Blaine Brownell is a regularly featured columnist whose stories appear on this website each week. His views and conclusions are not necessarily those of ARCHITECT magazine nor of the American Institute of Architects.