Engage, Envision, Enrich

Mayfield Group photo_all states

Over the past year, Daina Cunningham of NBRS has been actively involved in exploring various modes of contemporary learning and the spatial settings that support each. The NSW team of eight were participating in the Mayfield Project, a year-long research project undertaken by architects, educators and planning professionals that is coordinated by the Council for Educational Facility Planners International (CEFPI).

The team presented their findings and a process report at the CEFPI 2014 conference in Adelaide last month and produced an online toolkit equipping both architects and educators with a common vocabulary for spatial and educational concepts that underpin engaging learning environments.

Originally, the team’s intention was to develop a tool kit allowing a school’s vision for engaging learning and teaching to align with an architectural design brief. Realising that whole school change is big, the team were excited by the opportunity to harness the initiative of committed teachers who are ready to implement engaged teaching and learning in their own learning environments. It can be a challenge to demand change, let alone a paradigm shift; but to quote Dr Ken Robinson, “Education can be encouraged from the top down but can only be improved from the bottom up.” This quote fully captures the spirit of the NSW project.

The research took a variety of forms, including literature reviews, site visits and discussions with leading educators as well as architects and parents. Outcomes from various workshops and surveys gave us insight into both what people thought engaged teaching and learning looked like, as well as the impediments to, and successful strategies for implementation.

Top 5 impediments-top5 strategies

From this workshop data, we were able to outline the numerous buzzwords that emerged and the variety of meanings across the design and education disciplines. Jargon, or simply, misunderstanding the ‘buzz words’ can be a hindrance to many, architects and educators alike. Discussion between designers, clients and building users can be misleading and unhelpful when information is inaccessible between disciplines. A common language, however, allows meaningful dialogue and shared understanding of pedagogical and spatial concepts.

The team honed in on four student-centred, learning approaches, being: teamwork and collaboration; project-based learning; learning by presentation and personalised learning. An explanation of the learning approach as well as possible spatial settings and resources that support such modes were explored and broken down for user accessibility. The toolkit not only supports teachers in their approach to their own learning spaces and provides architects with insight into learning concepts but also acts as a bridging point in discussions between designers and clients.

A toolkit overview was also produced for various modes of discussion and to point towards the more detailed online toolkit.


2014 NSW Mayfield Team:

  • Daina Cunningham, Architectural Graduate – NBRS+PARTNERS
  • Pamela Doherty, Architect – BillardLeece Partnership
  • Kenny Giblin, Primary Teacher – Marrickville PS
  • Cathy Kubany, Architect – NSW Government Architects’ Office
  • Edward La, Science Teacher – Turramurra High School
  • Noam Raz, Architect – MAAP
  • Alison Sheil, Architect – Fulton Trotter Architects
  • Lyndall Smith, Architect – NSW Government Architects’ Office

Facilitator: Felicity Lewis, Architect – StudioGL

Mentors: Alastair Blyth, Education Consultant, UK; Shayne Evans, Architect – Stanton Dahl Architects and Vicki Steer, Principal – Ravenswood School for Girls.


NBRS+PARTNERS is a people focused, research based studio that aims to enrich lives. By developing creative design partnerships our portfolio spanning public and private sectors exhibit an understanding of the people whose lives will be affected. Above all NBRS seeks to design environments that will have positive life changing affect. Architecture is the cornerstone of NBRS+PARTNERS global interdisciplinary design practice with expertise in Architecture, Heritage, Interiors, Urban Planning, Landscape Architecture, ESD and Research. Since 1968, NBRS has developed a research led international architecture practice based in Sydney Australia. NBRS is recognised for its innovative, award-winning design excellence and comprehensive expertise. Our design-minded, 50 strong team’s unique focus on creative partnerships helps to realise solutions, with extraordinary results.

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