Future Learning Spaces with AIA

Context: A multidisciplinary approach to Learning Spaces

AIA Life Designers is a French engineering and architecture group founded in 1965. Today, they are a tightly knit group of architects, engineers, economists, urban planners, landscapers and site supervisors. As part of their aim to reflect upon the future of our cities, they constituted a specific working group on research & educational buildings. On this occasion, the AIA Research & Education working group met a group of Design students from the Sustainable citie's master cycle from L'Ecole de Design Nantes Atlantique in order to reflect upon the future of learning spaces. But there is a twist to the thinking process, all the ideas, no matter what, had to be prototyped quickly!!

Description: Rethinking learning spaces through Prototyping

The particularity of this workshop is its focus on Prototyping as a mean for challenging and pushing the innovation process. As part of their ongoing work, the AIA Research & Education working group had already identified some key ideas around the future of learning spaces that they wanted to push further. It seemed a great opportunity to experience the power of quick and rough prototyping as a method for testing and generating ideas.

The workshop was conceived and facilitated by Design students. Four mixed teams were formed with two or three AIA R&E members with backgrounds in architecture, engineering or management and two design students. The tools put in place by the facilitators are part of the AYCH ToolBox. Throughout the workshop, a researcher observed and noted the different interactions and reactions to the tools as well as the creative outcomes of the process.


Duration of the workshop: One day from 10 am to 5 pm.

  • 1. Presentation of AYCH project & the aims of the workshop
  • 2. Presentation of the workshop's themes and the work in progress by AIA Research & Development group
  • 3. Teams formation: 4 of 2 AIA members & 2 Students
  • 4. Idea Wall
  • 5. User scénario
  • 6. Quick prototyping round I
  • 7. Quick prototyping round II
  • 8. Test by students
  • 9. Feedback & Conclusions


Idea Wall

The Idea Wall is a powerful exercise that allows groups to easily share, visualise and make sense of different issues and ideas around a particular subject. It is a very flexible tool that can be adapted depending on the subject, the participants and the kind of project they are working on. For more details on how it works idea wall (english)

On this occasion, each team built an Idea Wall where they collected a series of main values and ideas associated with their particular working theme, many of these ideas and values were represented by images. The idea wall evolved and got richer as the team's work progressed during the day. After some exchanges, each group had to agree on one particular idea or concept they would have to develop next.

User scenario

Once each group chose the idea or concept they wanted to develop, each group had to produce a user scenario. This tool challenges the participants to think about how a potential user would interact with their idea or concept. It focuses the exchanges among the participants around the user's experiences and needs regarding their concept. For more information on User Scenario


For more information on what prototyping is Prototyping

Getting ready

After developing a user scenario, each group had to agree on what element of their idea or concept they would prototype keeping in mind that the prototype would be tested later on by real students.

Some questions to facilitate the task:

  • What aspect or dimension of your concept would you like to prototype?
  • Is there something in your user scenario you would like to test through prototyping?
  • Is there something in your concept you are not sure about and you would like to better understand?
  • What would be the best way to prototype your choice? The participants used the guide How to choose your prototype

Prototyping, quick & dirty

With the resources available, the participants had 1h30 minutes to do a usage prototype of an aspect of their idea. The “final” prototype was to be tested by real students.

Creative results

Four ideas to rethink the future of learning spaces were prototyped and tested:


Mobile spaces and less surface

When designing free and fluid spaces, user's and furniture's mobility is often challenged by technical constraints. For users to be really free and mobile, they must be able to connect to the electric grid at any time, anywhere. “A hanging socket” that can be plugged anywhere to the open ceiling electric grid is the key element of the concept. In this space, only some hard elements are fixed: the water point and stockage room. The rest of the space aims at hosting different individual and collective usages and functions as users can easily plug the hanging socket into the grid. The connected electric grid allows users to book and arrange the spaces in advance via an application.

This group prototyped three different elements of their concept: the space, a paper prototype of the app and the hanging socket. For this group, the prototyping process made it possible to account for the mutualizable areas of the space and its capacity to evolve. This is very useful when exchanging with developers so they have a better understanding of the idea.


Polymorphs spaces for multiple functionalities

This group focused on the interstitial learning spaces, particularly the circulation spaces around the classroom. How to create a porosity between the classrooms and the circulation areas in order to propose new usages?. The material answer to this questioning is a mobile wall that allows to modulate and create different spaces adapted to the particular needs of the users. This smart wall is pierced so different artefacts can be hooked into it in order to generate different usages.

The prototype produced has the particularity of being manipulable by the testers so they can project the different spaces they would like to create as part of a learning experience. The testers verbalised their different motivations and aspirations as they played with the prototype. These emergent pieces of information during the test were key to feeding the next steps in the prototyping process: a real scale prototype of the smart wall to be tested at a real school.


Different uses and temporalities for the restoration spaces

The restoration spaces in schools are often the most expensive and technically complex in schools. However, they are mostly used only during lunchtime. How to find other functionalities at different moments for restoration spaces?.

The idea is to separate the kitchen area from the serving area. The serving area is intended to be used for other purposes than eating: intellectual exchanges, manual or recreational activities, etc. On the other hand, it can be a space open to external local users such as associations. The modular furniture to this multifunctional space would be key to the users so they can create different spaces within the space.


What if the playground became the core of our learning places?

The concept is an innovative playground that is modulable and evolutive. Being the core of the future learning spaces, the group aimed at conceiving first this space usually seen as an empty space to then see how the rest of the buildings and building elements could be connected to the playground.

Methodological insights

The Idea Wall allowed the participants to understand each other's vision on the subject. However, they faced some difficulties to quickly and simply note and make their ideas visual. Pre-printed images in relation to the subject seem to be an interesting way of facilitating this process. The facilitators had a very important role when it came to helping participants to make their ideas visible.

The scenario proved to be an excellent way of focusing on potential users needs and experiences. It fostered the “process” view of the idea in its service dimension beyond the limits of the “space”.

The prototyping process was a driver for idea generation. In the process ideas became clearer, richer, more precise and more important, the prototype itself became a communicational tool among the group's members. As they progressed in the making of their prototype, the groups were pushed to make decisions regarding the overall project.

The group discussed the value of rapid & manipulable prototyping as a tool for conveying their ideas and work in progress to key stakeholders: developers, funders and potential users.

Overall, the role of the facilitators was key for keeping a good level of energy, dynamism and confidence within the groups.