Change your surroundings, change your thinking

Create an“enriched” environment by changing or using surprising spatial elements to activate & thus engage, different parts of the brain

Photo of Elsa Fridman Randolph
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I was struck and inspired by this article on the space of the Procore offices - The Startup That Designed Its Office to Confuse Workers:

It’s designed expressly to make workers get and feel lost, because, as neuroscience shows, disorientation keeps people alert and expecting the unexpected.

“Physical, tactile environments with different colors and lighting can affect how you feel throughout the day, by affecting your ability to pay attention and restoring energy,” says André Bellerjeau, a global practice leader at the architecture consulting group Little. He’s s describing the effects of an “enriched” environment, which uses surprising or changing spatial elements to activate, and thus engage, different parts of the brain and create new neural pathways. When parts of the brain must focus on new stimulus, blood flow increases, as does alertness. To do this, Bellerjeau says, it’s essential to “create opportunities for people to engage with their environments.”

Put in simpler terms: “The way we live life is very diverse … I have some of my best ideas in random places—the car, the shower—so we developed a space that is highly diverse,” Corbett says.

I can think of many ways to play around with this idea and prototype similar solutions in schools and classrooms - change lightbulbs, reconfigure desk arrangements (or get rid of desks altogether for a bit). Modular furniture/wall paneling are great to play around with space easily. 


Join the conversation:

Photo of Margaret Powers

I know many teachers who change the arrangement of their classrooms, or at least their desks/tables, at different points during the year but it would be interesting if that also spread to the school and if students had more of a voice in that change. I wonder whether the locus of control is a factor? At Procore, it seems like the leadership team and the designers created the space with a specific, disruptive purpose in mind but in schools, the control to make change often lies with teachers but only inside their classrooms and only to a limited degree. What if teachers actually moved rooms during the school year and administrators worked out of "pop-up" offices in different areas of a school? Could that create more of a productive (or overwhelming?) disruption in school environments?

Photo of Farihah

Margaret, really interesting concept of flipping administrative offices and classrooms and having the offices be the spaces that moved. Might be really great in helping school staff and administrators understand more about the goings on around the school (due to not having brick and mortar walls as barriers and having proximity to new parts of the school) which would help admin better identify problems and solutions at the school.

Also, your comment got me thinking about what would happen if students had the ability to rearrange their homeroom classroom or even redecorate it once a year. This would really help students feel a sense of ownership, belonging, would make it comfortable, and would also be a real-world learning opportunity. Students would have to critically solve the problem of designing a space using limited resources in order to meet the needs of increased productivity and focus in the classroom.

Photo of David Harrington

I like this idea. That would explain a lot of the Google offices I have been in;) Do you think there are any limitations because of how a child may get frustrated easier than an adult? How about a gradual or intermediate step? Any suggestions?

Photo of Elsa Fridman Randolph

Hi David,

Intriguing and thoughtful observation. The Procore offices are a rather extreme example, and you're right, I think something on that scale may be a bit too much for children to handle. That being said, I do think it is important for students to learn how to experience and handle (productive) frustration. This links back to a lot of the contributions that were posted in the Discovery phase about developing a growth mindset. Of course, we don't want kids to be frustrated for the sake of being frustrated, but frustration is often a symptom of learning, of going beyond past the known and working hard to figure out a way to integrate this new knowledge/information back into what we do know. I also believe that children have a remarkable capacity to adapt, and I sometimes wonder if schools don't suppress this natural ability. So what's the sweet spot of enough frustration? I think you could start with small alterations and build from there (change the lightbulbs to a different shade and progressively move to changing furniture layout, etc.) Do you have any starting ideas for that gradual/intermediate step?

Photo of David Harrington

Funny you should ask. Before I jump in, let me just say that I agree with your line of children being able to adapt. I was just told last night from a friend that his mom died, dad moved away and he was responsible for raising his 14 yr old sister when he was 17 (all in one week). Ok, back to the topic at hand. I wonder if we could make changes to the room first, then to a hall, then to a school. Gradual changes but keeps everyone fresh. My grandmother, who I lived with as a child, used to rearrange her living room every Monday am. She often said it was something she looked forward to and made it feel like a new space.