Motivating Minds & Igniting Inspiration

School’s Out!

It may be the school holidays still, but we’re always considering how best to create #InspiringSpaces, so our minds are firmly fixed on how to motivate minds and ignite inspiration when they go back.

Cobus has a wealth of experience in working with schools, colleges and universities. We carefully plan and design environments that encourage all ages to learn more successfully. We thought we’d share a bit of what we’ve learnt over the past 40 years.

Inspiration for young minds

For a very long time now society has been thinking about how to improve learning within academic institutions. From the curious pre-schoolers discovering the world around them, to the anxious university students cramming for life-forming exams. The environments these students are housed within can have a big impact on their ability to learn, and their experience of doing so.

Traditionally the architecture, decoration and fixtures/fittings of academic institutions have been focused on function as opposed to form. Hard-wearing (often dull) flooring, dark coloured seating to disguise wear and tear and uniform lighting schemes mostly to keep costs to a minimum. Anyone suggesting a different approach to this was considered to be a bit ‘alternative’ and avant gardist. We’ve come a long way since the likes of Maria Montessori introduced furniture and fittings in proportion to her infant students. This paved the way for companies like Wesco, founded in 1975, to design ranges of furniture and fittings specifically to support the needs of small children.

Wesco Cobus
photo courtesy of Wesco

Growing minds

It’s not just preschoolers and small children who need to have an environment designed to support their learning however. Everyone benefits from having an inspiring space in which to learn – from the very young to the very old. Our minds and imaginations are wondrous things, and with the right stimulus around us, they can achieve great things.

When we look at the ‘ideal’ learning environment it’s important to consider the holistic environment from the outset. It’s known that elements such a light & heat can have an effect on students’ ability to learn. However, when planning an inspiring space within which to learn it’s beneficial to not see these as isolated issues, but rather factor them all in to the planning phase.

Let there be light!

When it comes to arranging lighting in a learning space it’s important to consider not just the quality, but the quantity of light. It’s a common perception that having many, large windows is best to encourage learning, however the orientation and glare potential needs to be considered. Direct sun glare can have a negative effect on a student’s learning progress and therefore should try to be avoided. Where the environment is dependant upon electrical lighting, it’s important to ensure that there’s ample lighting to reduce the risks of headaches/eye strain and also that the quality is good. We’ve all experienced how intensely distracting, and infuriating it is to sit under a flickering light for any stretch of time.

Smith+Tracey Cobus
Smith+Tracey architects, Australia

Warming our hearts

Students perform better in environments where the temperature is easily controlled. A learning environment that is either too hot, due to un-wanted sun heat due to poor shading, or too cold due to bad air-conditioning or drafty windows can make it very uncomfortable. It’s important for students to feel comfortable in order to be able to properly focus their attention.

classroom cobus

Are you sitting comfortably?

Comfort is a key factor in enabling learning. This can mean different things for different age ranges however. For younger students around preschool age we know that their comfort is increased by a sense of ownership over their environment. This can be achieved by creating some unique features to the space or having some of the student’s artwork/photos on permanent display. Also a more flexible space with many ‘learning zones’ can encourage small children’s learning capability, however for older children a more simple structured room with clear lines of sight works best.

We know that companies invest heavily in ergonomic furnishings and features within office environments to lower the rates of illness and potential claims against them for employee injury. It’s important also to consider ergonomics in learning environments also. Although not sat at a computer for 10 hours a day, students can and often have to remain seated for a large portion of their day. Also, when we get to university stage students can be seated in libraries for an entire day when working on coursework etc. Their posture and comfort is as important to consider then as it is when they are 5/10/20 years older and at work.

Perch Cobus
The ergonomic Ray chair from Irish industrial design firm, Perch

Colour me smart

Colour schemes within learning environments can also have an impact on students’ learning progress. Spaces with a good balance of light coloured walls with accent bright displays have a strong correlation with learning progress. Bright colours on carpets, furnishings and other elements also correlate well. For many years interior designers have used colours as ways to influence moods within certain spaces, or even to highlight its purpose.

Sadly, colour is still largely used within learning environments for functional purposes without too much focus on the influence of certain colours or hues on mood/attention-keeping.

With colour it’s important to consider its usage in terms of what the space will be used for. Will it be a classroom, a library, a canteen or other social space? All of these areas should have special consideration given when selecting the appropriate colour schemes. For example:

Classroom – avoid over-stimulation through the use of bold and bright colours, but stick to more calming colours such as green and blue.

Library – for many institutions their library will have several different functions – there are areas for intense study, collaborative working, or simply to have some quiet time to relax and read for pleasure. It would be ideal to use colours in each area that best reflect the intention of function of the space.

Social space – these areas are where we would encourage the use of bolder, brighter more energetic colours. Socialising is a stimulating activity and therefore bright and stimulating colour schemes compliment the purpose best.

Hartpury College Cobus
Our canteen design for Hartpury College

“Pay attention at the back!”

For adults and children alike, we thrive in environments where we feel inspired.

Many of us will have memories of being in school having to sit upon uncomfortable wooden chairs (which would often give you splinters), staring at bare, bleak walls whilst trying to block out the sun glare shooting in through poorly-made blinds.

We don’t need to go back to that.

There’s no reason that a sense of comfort and inspiration should be exclusive to the home environment. Where we learn/work should also leave us feeling positive and uplifted. The science shows that the better the environment functions for the needs, the better the learning progress.


If you’d like help in creating #InspiringSpaces

Please don’t hesitate to call us today on 01425 418789.