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Student Well-being and the Physical Environment

The physical environment has a powerful influence on the learning experience, which may be either positive or negative, depending on the architecture and design of a building, and the effect it has on its occupants. The design of any building, how it evolves and how it is furnished and maintained, are key features when addressing both the physical and emotional well-being of its occupants. This principle can be applied to all areas of life – where we live and spend most of our time, studies, work, home life, has a significant influence on our health and well-being.

“The physical and social environment in which staff and students spend a high proportion of every weekday may have profound effects on their physical, emotional and mental health, as well as affecting their attainment.” Taken from Wise Up – Prioritising Well-being in Schools.

Increasing amounts of literature and research investigating exactly how and why the physical environment has such a powerful impact on our sense of well-being, has led to changes in the approach of architecture and design within universities and other types of educational establishments, towards a greater focus on wellness.

Health and Educational Outcomes

Education and health are linked, the physical environment, culture and ethos of an educational setting has the potential to improve educational outcomes, with the promotion of health and well-being as an integral part of the overall strategy plan. Students with better well-being are more likely to achieve more academically and consequently, academic success has a significant impact on well-being into adulthood and future careers – when an individual fulfils his or her potential, they achieve a greater sense of purpose and fulfilment in later life.

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In a student setting, the physical environment should be a space which encourages and supports the learning experience which should in turn, increase well-being, productivity and cognitive abilities, whilst reducing anxiety and stress. The surrounding physical environment should also incentivise students to spend their time on campus within in a positive space, subsequently creating a sense of community and inclusivity.

Well-Being and the Learning Environment

Recent studies indicate a significant increase in levels of stress and anxiety amongst students, often linked to study and academic performance related pressure, as well as financial burden and the dynamics of peer relationships. The surrounding physical environment can either alleviate or exacerbate such stresses. A positive overall experience during this time, seems to be a definite indicator of academic achievement, as well as success, in later life. A constructive connection with the surrounding environment can help to reduce stress and anxiety – therefore, many universities are now investing in the provision of well-being.

Factors Which Affect Well-Being Within the Physical Environment

During the design phase of any type of learning space, there are a number of elements which can potentially influence well-being, engagement and learning outcomes. These include the following:

Light

Exposure to natural light brings with it a great number of benefits, including improved mood and sleep. Natural light and a view of natural elements help to generate well-being and create an awareness of the present. Some studies suggest that optimised exposure to daylight can increase the speed of learning and improve attendance and test scores by as much as 25%.

Temperature and Air Quality

A fresh air flow and a steady temperature are essential to a successful learning environment which stimulates productivity. Poor air quality leads to a drop in concentration and output and is often associated with drowsiness and sick building syndrome.

Effective Space Planning

Efficiently and effectively utilising space to perform a specific function as well as creating a positive atmosphere, requires much consideration during the design phase. In general, people feel more inspired and creative in buildings with open spaces and higher ceiling, whereas smaller tighter spaces can lead to feelings of restriction and repression – therefore the amount of space required per occupant is extremely important.

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Other considerations include; furniture, fixtures and fittings, sight-lines (something especially important for spaces such as lecture theatres), floor plans, the connection or flow to other spaces, flexibility of use, the colour scheme and any legislative or legal requirements, must also be considered and may have a positive or negative influence on well-being.

Furnishings and Fixtures

The condition of all campus facilities, including its furnishings, has a direct impact on levels of student satisfaction and well-being. Seating is an important feature, as for the majority of disciplines, the learning experience takes place in a seated position, with individual space, comfort and ergonomics all impacting levels of general well-being and educational outcomes.

The choice of textiles, fabrics and finishes on chairs, desks or flooring are all sensory contrasts which can evoke positive or negative responses, as well as references to other elements such as nature, e.g. wood finishes.

Acoustics

Poor acoustics and disruptive exterior sounds are heavily associated with increased levels of stress and anxiety, as well as a drop in concentration during learning related tasks.

Comfort and Ergonomics

The majority of learning activities on campus, take place in a seated environment – the type of seating and workspace provided can have a substantial impact on the well-being of the occupants. Comfort, good ergonomics and writing surfaces are instrumental in creating a favourable environment for both individual and interactive group study, supporting the collaborative learning approach.

Colour Schemes

Colour psychology is a vast and extremely complex topic – condensed into its most basic form however, it appears that humans naturally seek colours which are reminiscent of nature.

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Blue for example, is associated with water and the sky and is believed to have calming and relaxing properties. Green is said to be calming and restorative and reminiscent of lush vegetation. Yellow tones are highly linked to the warmth of the sunshine, and can make spaces appear more welcoming and happier, whereas red tones are seen to be energising and inspiring. Wood interiors can also have a positive effect, both psychological and physiological – it is said to increase feelings of comfort and enhance relaxation. Therefore, it would appear that choice of colours for interiors and furnishings can have a profound influence on general well-being.

The Introduction of Biophilia

Biophilia describes a human centred approach whose principal aim is to enhance our connection to nature and the natural environment within the physical spaces we inhabit, by creating a space which draws elements of its inspiration from the natural world. Biophilia, within the university campus can refer to exterior green spaces, and the introduction of plants, natural products (wood finishes), imagery of the natural world etc. within interior spaces.

“Throughout our evolution, we’ve spent 99 per cent of our time in nature. Our physiology is still adapted to it. During everyday life, a feeling of comfort can be achieved if rhythms are synchronized with those of the environment”. Yoshifumi Miyazaki

Biophilia

The concept of biophilia can be considered or integrated into the overall architecture and design of university buildings and facilities.

Ferco Seating

Ferco Seating have worked with numerous educational institutions and their architects and designers right across the globe, to create fixed seating solutions to complement a wide array of learning spaces, including lecture theatres, seminar rooms and auditorium enhancing student well-being.

With over thirty years’ experience, Ferco are able to provide a fully comprehensive service – from the design phase, through to manufacturing and installation. Seating projects work through the following steps; initial enquiry, site visit, choosing a seat model, CAD Drawing Options, Quote provided, 3D layouts, Seating Layout Agreed, Order Placed, Manufacture and Delivery right through to installation.

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