If you want students to collaborate more, build them an arcade

Adding an arcade at school can increase student collaboration and give them a more inviting atmosphere for learning.

Thanks for reading. You can join a community of more than 1,124 other design lovers and education leaders by subscribing to our newsletter.

Each time a new blog post is published, you’ll be the first to know.

_ To encourage collaboration, you need to design opportunities for it to occur, physically.
_ Building an arcade is an excellent strategy for getting people to work together more.
_ When designing, consider factors that affect comfort and focus, like acoustics and privacy.

by Danish Kurani

Collaboration is meaningless these days. You’ve probably heard it so many times that no concrete image comes to mind anymore. But let’s not forget why we hear about student collaboration frequently: collaborating is a vital skill to cultivate in young people and integral for our human survival.

Chances are, you’ve highlighted the notion of collaboration on your school’s website or asked teachers to incorporate group projects into their lesson plans, or even taken it a step further and outright asked students to collaborate with each other.

Yet, you know collaboration isn’t something that manifests after mere instructions, which is why you need to take it a step further.

Here’s a proven learning space design that’ll get everyone at your school cooperating more often.

First, avoid wasting energy on this common design mistake.

In recent years, trendy designers and “education design consultants” (pseudo-designers who you’ll waste months with and then realize their ideas are fluffy and lack rigor) have suggested maximizing the utilization of the hallway space in order to allow students to find a haven to study and socialize outside of the classroom. Consequently, they’ve pushed schools to increase the width of hallways, and fill that extra space with lounge furniture.

Widening hallways and adding furniture, like in this design, will not benefit students unless they’re physically protected from others in the hallway.

Unfortunately, the wide-hallway strategy doesn’t work.

Since the lounge area is incorporated with the main path, there’s hardly any space between those walking and those studying, making it incredibly distracting and hard to concentrate. It’s like trying to study on a busy street corner in Times Square.

What people tend to miss is that merely widening a hallway doesn’t make it better for students. It takes more than that.

Learning spaces need to be designed intentionally, taking into account much more than furniture, which is why the underdeveloped and furniture-centric schemes proposed by ‘education design consultants’ usually backfire. Luckily, there’s a solution to this problem.

Building an arcade can be a surefire way to increase collaboration and conversation among students.

Take a cue from the University of Adelaide and its Barr Smith South building. Their hallways have arcades that separate the pathway from the meeting spots, providing students the perfect blend of study area and walking space.

The University of Adelaide has an arcade in the hallway, providing a place for students and faculty to interact outside the classroom.

Yep, that’s right. I’m talking about an architectural arcade, not a gaming arcade—although that has its merits too.

The arcade works especially well during class time, when students can quickly separate themselves from the larger group and concentrate with their teammates or be guided by their teachers individually.

Since it’s conveniently located right outside the classroom, it allows students to do this while still staying in the instructor’s line of sight and return back to the class quickly when they need to.

Arcades offer a physical barrier to shield people from external distractions, enabling them to focus on their task.

In ancient times, arcades provided a sheltered path for pedestrians. By the 18th and 19th century, these covered walkways had evolved into areas of socializing in front of shops. Arcades offered shoppers an enclosed space away from the chaos of the noisy streets, and a safe haven where people could socialize.

Think of your classrooms like shops. At present, there’s no environment between classrooms and hallways (the street) where students can congregate, discuss, and collaborate. An arcade could provide that missing space.

Plus, the exterior of classrooms is generally dreary, without any windows or aesthetically-pleasing features. It’s unwelcoming.

Classroom exteriors offer no warmth or invitation—so how will they excite students to come in?

By adding an arcade, the classroom wall is broken up and becomes a lot more inviting. As students can have a peek into the classroom, they feel less pressure and apprehension entering, while also feeling more at ease as they approach. 

Students have to cope with more than enough stress as it is. It doesn’t help when they have to deal with a formidable barrier to get into a classroom. Walking into a classroom is not necessarily exciting or even comfortable, especially when you can’t foresee what’s inside the room.

By introducing an arcade, it becomes a relaxed, social environment, and ultimately a much better atmosphere to learn in—another benefit of the arcade. As Christopher Alexander puts it in his groundbreaking book “A Pattern Language” which examines how humans use space, the arcade will make your classrooms seem “friendly.”

Don’t you want friendly classrooms?

An arcade with separate alcoves can create a more inviting atmosphere, helping to reduce student anxiety.
Designing with intention can make a huge difference in the student experience.

While a typical school building often lacks space to expand hallways, there is value in allowing students and teachers to have a dedicated space for smaller group sizes and a greater degree of privacy that’s separate from the bustle of the classroom and hallway.

By creating alcoves in the arcade, students and teachers can both feel at ease, having a place where they can better concentrate without the usual distractions.

If the idea of constructing an arcade isn’t feasible for your school, the City Neighbors High School in Baltimore, Maryland came up with a minimalist substitute: thoughtfully-designed benches nestled in alcoves outside of the classrooms. The great thing about this is that the students can get some breathing space away from the group, but still remain within view of their teacher and can make it back in time when the entire group reunites.

If wider hallways with an arcade isn’t possible, thoughtfully-designed areas outside of classrooms are a good place to start.

The point is, if you decide to act, don’t simply furnish your hallways with lounge furniture and expect that to be effective. Rather, consider the environment from a design standpoint, paying attention to things like views, distractions, and levels of privacy.

It may be wise to look for help from a professional designer who understands how to design scientifically and customize elements like lighting, ceiling height, acoustics, and colors in ways proven to help students.

Let us do the hard work for you.

At Danish Kurani, we understand that designing an intentional learning environment is difficult, and it takes more than good intentions to produce positive outcomes. So, if you’re looking to take maximize the architecture on your campus, please contact us and see what we can do for you.