“Future proof” spaces

This article is more than any, an invitation for you to practice imagination and imaginary, almost as using VR/AR to step into, and build or deconstruct what we bring with us in terms of pedagogies, or expectations around new learning spaces. I heard the words “future-proof spaces” from Tiina Otala, my guest with this article. You might like to have a journal with you close by or some paper because you might get the clarity of a very small idea that was waiting to be considered when it comes to new learning environments. 

This topic will be continued yet the invitation today is to follow with some of the concepts, that I found are part of future-proof spaces. I could not make this clearer that although imaginary wise you are visiting with us Aalto University Campus in Finland you are actually redesigning your class, your school or your learning environment. 

picture by Brian, social art teacher from Spain, Dipoli building, “there are not 2 windows that have the same dimensions, each window is unique”, March 2022 Integrated Curriculum Teaching Global Skills program
The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed.” — Albert Einstein”

A space where anything is possible (Living Lab)

That was the experience of the Harald Helin space. I have been there with many different groups of teachers, either guided, either with a short practice of visioning or just chilling in the space yet taking the time by oneself to just be in the space. The experience is that of wonder and awe. There are 2 different aspects here to be considered: just because we would create such a space with top-notch technology doesn’t actually mean that it is a space where teachers and students go to just test how it feels to dream differently and that anything is possible Not at all. There is the invitation to look and create these spaces from a technological perspective as well as from an adaptive perspective ( or human development). I will just say here that for such spaces to truly invite awe and wonder they need to come with “rather loose rules and horizontal relationships”. Back to Harald Herlin Center, anyone could access these spaces and the amazing infrastructure, it is for absolutely everyone, there is not one that has more mastery having more access to it. This is a very Finnish (Scandinavian) story success: make it accessible to absolutely everyone, which creates cohesion. This also comes with responsibility such absolutely free visionary spaces where you can grow your awe and wonder, you quickly need to LEARN that you and only you are responsible for your learning at 2 different levels: 1. the technological level- these are the horizontal skills, you will self directly learn how to use the technology that is on you with appropriate and good tutorials and self-help materials, nobody is there to hold your hand or do it for you or be responsible for your learning 2. adaptive- or vertical development skills: your freedom stops where it could affect others, which means you practice awareness of how you come in space and meet the others; how you are part of the social field and social body, how you are with others for the better learning and education of everyone. You might see now why I said that such spaces come with rather ‘loose rules and horizontal relationships”. 

roof installation, easily observed from the 2nd floor Department of Architecture, picture October 2022 with Coaching Strategies Turn Challenging Learning group of Principals and Teachers

Allow and encourage paradox

The whole campus is full of paradoxes, we want future-proof spaces to invite students and teachers and a community of learners to eliminate contradictions, these moments and elements that keep us stuck “creating results that nobody seems to want”. We want 21st-century education, teachers, learners, and communities of learning to be fine with paradoxes. In the case of being in Aalto, having this very sumptuous building for the Department of Architecture and inviting on the roof that is easily seen from the 2nd-floor spaces an installation of ‘like strawbees’  allows a different playful lens. Or the 1st-floor sumptuous area for receiving and leaving your coats is now a chill and relax, and study in your own area. The invitation here is if you face an area in your school that used to belong to 20th-century architecture and design and purpose, it might not be always the case to just replace it completely, not at all and that new learning spaces really can happen in “old spaces”. We go back to the idea: just because you suddenly change the school design and environment if there is no open process, an adaptive process invitation, the learning habits can really be and remain “old” and indifferent to all the new physical ergonomics. Allow and invite paradoxes will prove to be the most effective and efficient way to approach new learning ways and spaces’ budgets. Before I jump into the next idea,  I will say I loved how excited the students, in a high school I visited in Porvoo, where to stay and learn in the space where old furniture was on purpose placed. It was the Principal vision, she mentioned she could have sold it but she had this idea of “no, we restore it”. Once more invitation is to play with “loose enough rules and horizontal relations” as you cannot draw strict lines between paradoxes. 

picture inside Dipoli, anywhere you are, you are 2 steps away or one look away from “outside”, picture September 2022 together with New Learning Ways and Spaces program group of teachers

Always leave bridges opened, and easily accessible

As Tiina my guest for the interview about Future proof spaces pointed out, from absolutely anywhere in these different buildings you are 2 steps away from “outside”, or anywhere you can pick and you have an amazing different-shaped window that would invite you to dream and co-create with the outside, or simply relax your eyes and mind for a moment. I am a very much experience-based researcher and also a trainer, I would never be able to do a job that involves me spending good minutes and different elevators, intertwined corridors, etc to actually be able to step outside or boring windows that have the same shape and cannot be opened to be my gateway to outside. The invitation of the Aalto University spaces is that while we learn, create, and research always keep the outside close;  that is where get out inspiration from! And that we all have different ways of looking at the “outside” (seeing the world) so why would our windows be and look the same? My favorite is Dipoli ( well at least today is because all of them are my favorite depending on the day). Dipoli building has been so designed not to have 2 windows with the same shape or dimension, they are unique as are the learners’ and teachers’ ways of looking at the world. In 21st-century skills-based education you would want to Open the school to the outside and the classrooms and these are some of the ways you can feel called to do it. 

It is always unfinished

– I said 3 concepts yet it is too good not to start this concept, there is a place in Dipoli building where a major corridor leads to a wonderful “unfinished” place. Once more awe and wonder, the team of architects for Dipoli, made this statement. How can we leave our learning spaces “unfinished”? Where in your school, your environment the ones that come after you can shape, and define who they are what is their work and learning, and as they do this inner process, the place also has the Openness and the Freedom to invite continuation. It is something about equality and social justice in this idea and deserves more space and reflection, and that is what we will do.

Reima and Raili Pietilä the team of architects for the Dipoli Building, “left” this “unfinished corner, stairs, corridor”; as I rested with teachers, there was silence….it was the moment that for me as an Eastern European with my cultural translation for the Asian art of ” Ichi-go Ichi-e” “one time, one meeting”; “describing a cultural concept of treasuring the unrepeatable nature of a moment.” We stayed there with our guide and allowed that moment and emotions of bittersweet to be, October 2022

Follow more with the insightful dialogue we had with Tiina Otala, on our Spotify platform.

Introduction to this interview- In this episode, we talk with Tiina Otala about Reimagining upper Education, a case of Aalto University. I really appreciate the idea of  “how do we support multidisciplinary” and Tiina takes the examples of the different department spaces ” they blend, nothing needs to stand up more than the rest”. How is a space inviting well-being in very concrete ways, and how students can choose to experiment-based learning or a more academic approach setting foundation. The culture of ” learn by doing mistakes”, and my absolute favorite this time, how is your idea, your design, creation, prototype stands the test of ” future proof”, how Tiina calls it ” students and teachers will challenge your creation with the future proof”.  How do we practice imagination and vision for learning spaces where people- researchers, students, and teachers feel so easy to approach projects from many different perspectives, Tiina mentions ” it is so easy, as all spaces are so transparent, you accidentally meet people”, you cannot avoid cooperation, collaboration and getting your work supported by others work. Besides the transparency factor, is “scale it down” element, students don’t want to leave this place, they learn, work, socialize, eat, and create their own personal events, “it feels like really your home,  comfortable place” although we are talking about the 2nd largest University in Finland. We talk about the ecosystem, and last but not least future thinking, as Tiina can see how her work will develop.

References:
  1. the cover picture for this article is from Design Museum in Helsinki permanent exhibition, which I have been visiting at least twice a year for the last 6 or so years. In 2024 the Design Museum in Helsinki will be in a new space, and we can online as well explore some of the collections here https://collection.designmuseum.fi/en/
  2. the idea of the Finnish or Nordic Secret, this is another really nice book on this topic “The Nordic Secret: A European story of beauty and freedom Lene Rachel Andersen (Author), Tomas Björkman (Author), 2017 and Reimagining High education dialogue with prof. Otto Scharmer, MIT on the idea of seeing the success case story and then immediately offering access to absolutely everyone, and that creates cohesion
  3. On the concept of Ichi-go Ichi-e” see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ichi-go_ichi-e
  4. more on how to understand and foster Awe and Wonder, Atlas of the Heart HBO special with Brené Brown and the book with the same title
  5. I love, and so do teachers this tool called strawbees, https://classroom.strawbees.com
  6. For adaptive vs technological challenges, and processes, see Ronald Heifetz’s articles and research.

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