The Third Teacher

The Third Teacher. A collaborative Project: OWP/P Architects + VS Furniture + Bruce Mao Design

With an eye on the future of learning, the multidisciplinary team + network collaborates with these communities to formulate systemic strategies for pedagogical, curricular, and environmental change. To perpetuate these changes, we design the physical environment – “the third teacher” – that houses and facilitates the new ecology of learning.

Schools turn out students who are over-stimulated and under-sensitized.

Architects must be strong systems-thinkers who can facilitate organizational change just as much as physical change.

As people move through our spaces, they are inspired and urged to act differently, as well as supported in that endeavor. This is truly how architecture can play a role in change. Architecture can create it.

Basic Needs………………………………….

We start with an examination of the basic needs of the child and the basic requirements of the child’s learning environment because, unless those environments are safe and clean, it will be a challenge to achieve any learning and teaching that is itself more than primitive. Experts in child development and authorities on health and safety join teachers and designers in a heartfelt and fact-based plea for learning environments that address the fundamental necessities of life.

Minds at Work…………………………………….

The tools and tactics that encourage the creative thinking that is now, more than ever, so critical to success in higher education and the world at large have yet to be integrated into the standard curriculum or overall design of our schools.  We must give children spaces and lessons that foster lifelong creativity, that teach them to take calculated risks, to innovate and experiment.

Bodies in Motion………………………………….

“When we think of intellectual activity, we always imagine people sitting still, motionless. But mental development must be connected with movement and be dependent on it. It is vital that educational theory and practice should be informed by that idea.” Maria Montessori

Most educators receive little assistance from the physical environments in which they, and the children in their charge, work. Concrete school-yards, cramped classrooms, and fixed furniture all communicate exactly the equation that Montessori warned against.  There is almost a mathematical relationship between the surroundings, the activity, and the development of the child.

Community Connection……………………..

Many of our schools are still separated from their communities by long highways, limited hours, inflexible spaces, and, most of all, blinkered vision about the myriad ways in which schools can and should be part of the social ecosystem, in the process enriching both students and communities. There is a relevance and necessity to plan, design, and build schools that are as vital and interconnected as life itself.

Sustainable Schools…………………..

School buildings contribute a large share of the carbon emissions of the built environment; and yet many are still being operated and built with insufficient attention to the many ways in which, without wise design, they waste energy, dirty the environment, disconnect children from nature, and teach them implicitly that sustainability is just an option, and that disregard for the natural world is permissible.

Realm of the Senses………………………….

Diderot argued that a person depended on their senses to develop their ideas and intellect.  There are myriad opportunities to integrate food, light, color, and material into the learning landscape and create teaching moments that will resonate with students on a visceral level. By primary school most students are sentenced to spend their school days in settings that are either bland or chaotic, settings where little thought has been given to sensory education.

Learning for All………………………….

Toffler writes that of all sources of power, knowledge is fundamentally different because it can be grasped by not only the rich and the strong, but also the poor and the weak. Many of today’s schools are inaccessible to students who are physically, emotionally, intellectually, socially, or economically challenged, and that puts knowledge, the supposedly most democratic source of power, beyond the grasp of the weakest and poorest citizens of what we call the developed world. The design of a learning space should address pragmatic and humane changes, and push us to think beyond, to the changes that will make a learning environment the kind of vibrant and engaging place that truly puts knowledge within the grasp of all.

Rewired Learning………………………….

The tools we have influence the knowledge we obtain. We must create learning environments as flexible and fluid as today’s technologically sophisticated learners.  Students beginning school now know more about technology then they realize and consider it a vital part to their survival.  This dependence on devices, both individual and communal will provide opportunity for innovation and intervention within a learning space or curriculum. 


Case Study: UNCC SOA Graduate Lounge

UNC-Charlotte’s School of Architecture building has a graduate student lounge where students can work at any point during the day.  The author as well as other members of this studio, often frequent this space to work during the school day.  I was curious to know what it is about this small space that makes it a haven for productivity on campus considering it’s minimal size.  In discussing the location with other students it has become a “hotel” of sorts for grad students who have their studios at the Center City Building in Uptown Charlotte.  Part of the success of this room is the potential to minimize mechanical lighting.  One of the greatest limitations is it is difficult to move the furniture.  The “comfy” chairs are incredibly heavy and the unused bookcase takes up an entire wall.  The students would prefer more flexible furniture and something of a chalk wall to work out design ideas for others to see and comment.  To see more click here:

Grad Lounge