The Impact of Biophilic Learning Spaces on Student Success

11:15 AM – 12:15 PM


Biophilic design applies elements from nature to built space achieving an enhanced sense of well-being and improved human performance. Decades of research studies have associated biophilic design with significant user benefits such as shorter hospital stays, a more productive workforce and improved cognition. There has never been a robust study of the effect of biophilic design in learning space until now. A team of architects, educators and scientists from Craig Gaulden Davis, Morgan State University, The Salk Institute and Terrapin Bright Green are the first to test and present quantitative evidence of the impact of biophilic design on student well-being and learning outcomes in a Baltimore middle school. In this session authors of this AIA-funded study will present the neuroscience theory, precedent biophilic research, the experiment methodology and findings. The study examined to what extent the design of the physical learning space, enhanced with biophilic design, contributes to student stress reduction and improved learning outcomes for a middle school Math class at a public charter school in West Baltimore. We present findings of data collected from a biophilic classroom and a control classroom, where the physical design of each space varies—one is a traditional classroom while the biophilic classroom is enriched with views to nature, dynamic and diffuse daylight and biomorphic patterns. Data was collected by monitoring students’ HRV (heart rate variation) as a measure of stress, comparing academic performance, student surveys, and student and instructor interviews. Both qualitative and quantitative findings strongly suggest the biophilic design elements had a positive effect on student experience which manifested in stress reduction and enhanced learning outcomes. Attendees will leave this session with a new tool allowing them to transform new science into better design for the next generation of learning spaces.

#1: Participants will be able to incorporate specific biophilic design strategies producing a positive impact on students’ well-being and learning outcomes.
#2: Upon completion designers can assess the performance of spaces they design by using a new survey tool developed by an education researcher. Architects’ post occupancy evaluations will be enhanced with a new ability to assess student performance.
#3: Participants will be inspired to replicate the study methodology and create their own practitioner-academic research partnerships to further reveal evidence of design that enriches user experience.
#4: Upon completion participants can apply the principles of neuroscience theory of function, perception and architecture as well as precedent research of biophilic design igniting enhanced user performance and well-being in the spaces they design.

Design of Educational Facilities: Acts as a resource to the design team in providing ongoing guidance and support to ensure that the emerging and ultimate design aligns with the established community vision, education goals, future programming, written design standards, best/next practices and education policy.

Assessment of the School Facility: The ability to objectively Evaluate a learning environment post-occupancy and utilize the data to improve future projects. Implements a plan for educational commissioning that provides guidance on how to use and maximize the learning environment to meet the foundational vision in the planning phase. 

James Determan, FAIA, Principal, Craig Gaulden Davis
Jim Determan, FAIA, BS, MA Georgia Tech, Principal with Craig Gaulden Davis in Baltimore, has been a designer, educator, researcher and advocate for learning space design for 30 years. He has taught design at Morgan State University, spoken nationally and at all levels of government about the power of design. Jim convenes multidisciplinary teams of architects, educators and scientists in grant-funded, published research revealing evidence of design that enhances student experience, well-being and learning outcomes.

Bill Browning, Hon AIA, LEED AP, Managing Partner, Terrapin Bright Green
Bill Browning, BED Colorado University, MSRED MIT, Hon. AIA, LEED AP., is one of the green building industry’s foremost thinkers, and an advocate for sustainable design solutions for business, government, and civil society. Terrapin Bright Green is an environmental strategies research and consulting firm. Browning’s clients include Disney, New Songdo City, Lucasfilm, Google, Bank of America, the White House, Interface, and the Sydney 2000 Olympic Athletes Village. Browning is a founding board member of the USGBC.

Catherine Martin-Dunlop, Ph.D., CFD Director, Center for Excellence in Teaching & Learning, Morgan State University
Catherine began her career at Morgan State University in 2011 as an Associate Professor of Science Education. Her research interests focus on the assessment of learning environments (or spaces), and understanding how these settings can contribute to positive outcomes, particularly for underrepresented students. In 2017, she became the founding Director for the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETL). CETL’s goal is to promote best practices in teaching that lead to student success.

LearningSCAPES Virtual Conference: Passport to Learning



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