What impact do our learning places have on their users?

Julie Kyle
Julie Henderson on 27th Nov 2023


I had a very busy(!) but enjoyable two days at Learning Places Conference 2023. Education is a major sector for Curtins with numerous live projects across the country, so it was a great buzz to catch up with colleagues, clients and new connections at this year’s conference. The sessions ensure we hear the innovations our industry is achieving in the sector, usually through some successful projects and, just as important, the lessons learned on projects to share best practice going forward.

My highlight of the conference was hearing the perspectives from pupils and apprentices, providing a unique insight into the positive impact our space planning is having on these young people.

On Tuesday, I was blown away, hearing Ella, Ben and Aaron from East Calder Primary School speak about the internet and their strong interest in mechanical and electrical engineering. This was brought to life through their understanding of the school environment, data analysis and how ventilation affects learning experiences. The conference was off to a good start.

On Wednesday morning, Chris Harkins spoke passionately about his positive experiences studying mechanical engineering under an apprenticeship at West Lothian Council. He challenged us, as an industry, to enable people to flourish through the apprenticeship route by creating more apprenticeship opportunities.

Wednesday's afternoon sessions focused on the theme of low carbon in both new build and refurbishment projects. Among the discussions were the long-term effects of insulation on heat and energy performance, and the importance of post occupancy data capture to track the CO2 and carbon levels. While these focused more on Passivhaus and operational carbon, here at Curtins our involvement and analysis is focused on embodied carbon, an essential part of our LEIP education projects in Scotland.  

It was interesting, however, to hear examples of carbon impact being measured through the lifespan of a building as we look at whole-life cost in both new build and retrofits. A standout for me was the contribution from Annabelle Burns, Headteacher at Riverside Primary School, Perth. Hearing the positive impact the school’s new building and innovative space planning has had on pupil and staff well-being was really inspiring.   

As I reflect on the two days and awards dinner, some of the key points I took away from the conference include:

  • the use of light and maximising flexibility to improve space;

  • the visual connections between inside and out, and external sensory experiences;

  • the themes of 'connecting, enabling and influencing' from play and learning outdoors;

  • the future of our industry is in good hands with a new generation eager to deliver sustainable and inclusive environments

So often in our fast-paced industry, we can get lost in project pressures, strategising and forward planning that we do not pause to take a breath, step away from our desks and visit the projects we know so well on paper.  

It's important to not only reflect on our how the project team's collaboration has created a building that is innovative and carbon efficient, but also to take the time to visit the projects after completion. This brings to life the transformative impact they are making on communities and the many opportunities they provide to users – how we, as an industry, can make a real difference.

This is what it should all be about: having a positive impact on people’s lives and leaving a lasting legacy. It is an industry I’m proud to be part of.

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