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9 Principles of Learning Environments for Creativity


Research to date involving creating a healthy school environment focuses on creating a space that does not impede the learning abilities of the occupants.  This is done through evaluation and finessing of sensorial input. Environmental factors include air quality, thermal comfort, quality of natural and electric light, acoustic conditions, and visual stimuli, etc. But this isn’t the entire picture. Other crucial factors include the students’ emotional well-being (at home and at school) and how they feel when they go to school, and occupy a classroom. The perception of the space is vital to student success. 

Illustrated above is a holistic approach to creativity and well-being of children. Each of the nine principles have architectural and educational implications. Curriculum and pedagogy are integral to student success and creativity. The goal of these strategies is to provide suggestions for the educational framework while emphasizing the architectural opportunities to influence student creativity. The built environment influences the way teachers and students feel in the space and the way they interact.

9 Principles of Learning Enviornments for Creativity
Project Background


The State of Schools

Existing Classroom

The public education system in the United States is experiencing a shift. 21st Century education emphasizes creativity, innovation, collaboration, self-driven, and personalized learning. Students today are being prepared for jobs that are unknown, undefined. This requires a high level of flexibility and adaptability in curriculum and learning opportunities. This is where the architecture of schools is falling short. This changing curriculum and approach is being taught in facilities that are outdated, and under performing.


Classrooms often have minimal daylight, inadequate heating and cooling systems, limited to nonexistent usable outdoor learning environments, classrooms with heavy or built in furniture that do not promote flexibility or ownership. All of this is physically and mentally detrimental to both the teachers and students occupying the space. Many of the schools in operation today were built in the mid 1900’s have seen minimal modernizations to date outside of basic access compliancy. Updating or replacing these facilities is the ideal, however impossible due to the realities of school funding infrastructure. 

Designing for all Communities

 The school districts with the facilities in the worst conditions, struggle the most to pass bonds and fund these improvement projects or new schools. Even the districts with the money to repair and replace schools need a guideline for design that supports the physical and mental needs of the users that allow for adaptability and flexibility for the curriculum of tomorrow.


This project uncovers that evidence. It explores the cognitive behaviors of creative minds, the level of stimuli needed for learning and engagement, the environmental minimums acceptable for 21st century learning. It goes beyond minimums and highlights what factors have the biggest impact, no matter the size of budget of the project. It prioritizes needs, so that a given school and a given budget has a target that will make a positive impact.

Existing Classroom

Toolkit Development

Existing Classroom

In an effort to make this information accessible to those who need it - teachers, school administration, architects, state agencies, etc - the development of a Toolkit document became evident.  


The Learning Environments for Creativity Toolkit provides a common ground of resources and information for anyone invested in school design. It is an educational tool to shed light on what works and doesn’t work in school facility design, as well as a foundational understanding of why creativity is the goal, how it works, and what influences it in developing brains.  This work will continue to grow and change as research continues. Collaboration is key for success of future school designs. 

boy yelling into microphone


January 29th, 2018 at a public hearing in Olympia, Washington regarding a Senate Bill to increasing Capitol Funding to Public k-12 schools three high schools students testified to the Senate Ways & Means Committee below are their stories.

(Senate Ways & Means Committee, 2018). 

High School Junior 1

“I will be walking across the stage next year with my diploma never having taken a science class in a real lab setting. Students from other districts who can consistently pass bonds have the opportunity to take classes in updated and state of the art facilities. How are my peers and I from Sequim getting equipped with the skills necessary to be competitive with these students in the 21st century work place? It’s not fair. It’s not right. And it’s time to get started and to not shy away from these issues any longer”

High School Junior 2

The second student, a Junior at Port Angeles High School, says his school, built in 1955, has three big issues in a school that is essentially “falling apart”: water, heating, and electrical.  He goes on to describe the degradation of the facilities, the two remaining water fountains that still work, the uncomfortable fluctuation of temperatures at both extremes; overheated and insufficient heating in classrooms across campus. He even mentions the roof falling in at one point. He says “schools are supposed to be welcoming; like a second home to students and building conditions are directly linked to a student’s engagement and willingness to learn.”

High School Junior 3

The last student describes the stark differences between the two schools her parents work at. Her mother works at a school that was built in 1927 and hasn’t seen a significant renovation. The conditions are poor, with inadequate lighting, undersized electrical systems that require resetting the fuses when they blow from being overused. The plumbing is 80 years old, the HVAC doesn’t run properly, and for recess the students walk several blocks to a near by park because there isn’t a playground on campus.  
Contrasting this is the school that her father teaches at. His school was built in 1992 and upgraded in 2004 and the only notable problem is “the mid-aged roof, which is to be expected.” Other than this, the facility ranks in the 90th percentile. The difference between these two schools is due to the districts they are in.  The students’ father’s school is in a district which passes bonds regularly and has high property values, and thus higher taxes compared to the district where her mother teaches.


In a separate hearing a superintendent said “We are getting ready to run a bond in April and one of our platforms is that our elementary school has outdated classrooms. I was hoping you could help point me in the direction of some up-to-date research about the impacts facilities have on learning.”



This study examines the impact of learning environments on student creativity and well-being. The research includes an investigation of educational philosophies of the 21st Century; cognitive psychology of childhood development; learning and creativity; plus the current and historical conditions of school architecture. Based on this multidisciplinary evidence principles of creative learning and architectural strategies were developed to support children’s health, well-being and creativity.


In addition to reviewing the research across disciplines, this project involved industry engagement through site visits to schools under construction and completed, a focus group discussing the realities of implementing evidence based design into the practice of architecture, and a symposium bridging community engagement, physical learning environments and students.

Theroetical Framework Diagram
Research Framework


Creativity Science
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