Editorial: Learning for Life

June 1, 2008

I recently read an essay in Ralph Caplan's book, Cracking the Whip: Essays on Design and Its Side Effects, in which he discusses how classroom instruction and design are interrelated.

"Classrooms are design, as are the furniture, books, and computers used in them," writes Caplan. "So are the two
activities classrooms are intended to support—teaching and learning." He goes on to explain that if education and design are inseparable, then what should be the byproduct? While every school (hopefully) turns out educated students, Caplan suggests that "the only educational product that schools can be charged with designing is the educational environment-including not only classrooms and laboratories, but the situations in which students interact with each other and with faculty members."

This emphasis on the learning environment—the interaction between teachers and students—places the burden of educational success on the shoulders of those who design them. If students are performing poorly, perhaps it isn't that we need better teachers or a better curriculum, but better designers and architects who understand how to create spaces that encourage creativity and facilitate learning.

In my own experience, every classroom I can recall sitting in was practically the same (except for art and music rooms): rows of desks, some bookshelves and a couple of chalkboards. And while I did perform relatively well in standard, lecture-type environments, I recall getting the most out of a class when we moved our desks into different configurations and did something out of the ordinary or experienced hands-on instruction.

Coincidentally, that is what makes the subject of our cover story in this issue so unique. Don't let the images fool you—this project is not a resort, although it's intentionally designed to look like one. It is the new Mori Hosseini College of Hospitality Management at Daytona Beach College, designed by Florida Architects Inc. (FLA). The paramount function of the building is to support hands-on classroom learning and teaching, which is critical in the field of hospitality, and also supports Caplan's theory mentioned earlier that classrooms must be designed to positively encourage learning.

"Hospitality management requires individuals to be experienced in many facets in addition to their own area of interest, such as a chef needing to understand the nuances of serving and creating the appropriate atmosphere for various gatherings," says Patricia Grafton, an interior designer for FLA. "Our design provides efficient flow from one area to the next in a framework that enables students to easily access the spaces relative to their chosen program."

And as with any good design, form must not be sacrificed for the sake of function. The new two-story, 70,580-square-foot facility resembles a resort and has become an icon on campus. "We were asked to create a first-class resort aesthetic with a Mediterranean feel," notes Joseph Sorci, FLA's president and principal-in-charge. "The design departs from other campus facilities, which is appropriate given both its use and prominent location."

Speaking of departures from the norm, I was struck by the concept of "reverse mentoring" introduced in Deborah Steinmetz's article, "Turning the Tables," in this issue's NCIDQ forum. Steinmetz recalls a personal experience during which she was mentoring a student and discovered during the exchange that she, the mentor, was learning about her mentee's techniques in CAD drawings. Citing Alan Webber, co-founder of Fast Company, Steinmetz explains that reverse mentoring is a phenomenon that takes place when young professionals come into an organization with "fresh eyes, an open mind and instant links to the technology of our future" and share their skills with their older colleagues and mentors-something every seasoned practitioner should be open to.

Because let's face it, learning is a lifelong activity, and the day we close ourselves off to new ideas and new information is the day we stop growing. As author Alvin Toffler so aptly puts it, "The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn."

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