Most of my photographs from this past week were taken at the beach, and most were nature shots. I took pictures of the cliffs, rocks, and waves. I photographed the curve of the kelp and noticed a tiny crab’s curved claws. I did capture one oceanfront home that caught my eye due to its graceful curving roofline. As I reflect on my photos of curves, I am left wondering why architecture is predominantly rectangular. The obvious conclusion must be that it is easier, more efficient, and cheaper to build boxes.
I decided to Google the topic, and a search of “curves in architecture” brought me to an interesting article that sent my thinking in unexpected directions. I was surprised to learn that the British Department for Education under the leadership of Education Secretary Michael Gove has banned curvilinear design elements in all school architecture. The new requirements for school buildings state that ”no curves or ‘faceted’ curves” will be allowed. In addition, “corners should be square, ceilings should be left bare and buildings should be clad in nothing more expensive than…metal panels above head height. As much repetition as possible should be used to keep costs down.”
My next Google search led me to discover that architectural curves actually affect well-being. I learned that people “…have an automatic activation of the amygdala, a brain structure associated with unconscious anxiety and fear, when looking at hard angles, and that no such activation is present…” when looking at curves. In addition, researchers have concluded that curvilinear design can affect creativity and focus.
It makes sense that we would be more comfortable with curves. Humans are products of nature, and as such, we respond positively or negatively to our environment much “like animals do.” The natural environment is filled with curves. Why aren’t our homes, workspaces, and places of learning designed with human nature in mind?
Gove and other members of Parliament may have good intentions. They want to cut the waste out of the development and building of new schools; however, they don’t appear to be concerned about the impact that school design can have on students. Architects are fighting back, but from what I have read, no one seems to be considering the types of environments that enhance learning.
Curves certainly aren’t part of the architecture of the campus where I work. The Del Rio School facility is only a few years old, and the architect actually spent time talking with the staff to get our feedback. Teachers have been pleased with the pod layout and its plentiful storage spaces, but it has become evident that little consideration was given to research on the impact that classroom design can have on learning and behavior. In fact, if our experience at Del Rio is the norm, even simple decisions like the placement of electrical outlets are not made with teachers and students in mind.
Every teacher knows that a classroom is “far more than a container in which learning happens.” We know that simple rectangular boxes with fluorescent lights and low ceilings are not the best places in which to learn. We may not be able to change the physical structures of the buildings we teach in, but how can we soften the hard edges in order to make our classroom buildings more conducive to learning and creativity?
I didn’t know where this reflection would lead, but I am surprised that I have strayed completely away from thoughts about photographs that I have taken recently. As I circle (or curve) my way back to where I began, I think about my new appreciation for curves and realize that one solution to the problem with classroom architecture is incredibly simple. It could be as easy as venturing outside with our students more often in order to provide opportunities to learn, discover, and create in natural surroundings where almost everything appears to consist of curves.