The materials that we choose to align our indoor environments with are beneficial in more ways than one.
Outdoor space stimulates the senses reducing stress and rumination, recharging our physical and mental energy, kickstarting our immune system and also improving our mood. The use of natural material in interior environments, not only aids our wellbeing but also increases creativity and memory formation, and, consequently, many educational organisations are designing buildings with this in mind.
Maple Street School. Image credits: Lesley Unruh
Students learn via a range of methods; through sound, sight and touch; they actively look, listen and feel. Mindful of this, the textures and aesthetics of materials, amount of light that floods a building, and the openness of a space influences children's learning ability.
Designed by Barker Freeman Design Office (BFDO) and 4MATIV, Maple Street School in New York is a space conducive to play and learning, designed for its student to feel at home. Light-coloured maple wood spans the walls and flooring, creating a warm and welcoming environment for children to learn in. The building’s doors slide away into the walls, and open up the classrooms to one and another, while the large windows flood the space with natural light.
The use of natural materials in educational environments like Maple Street School not only assists children’s learning but also influences how children think about the environment — important in educating young people about sustainability and the value of natural materials.
But how do natural materials help us learn? In comparison to synthetic products, interior environments designed from natural material help us recharge, and resume focus for direct attention which is an important process in memory development. Decorating learning spaces such as Maple Street School with timber, for example, helps children recover from physical and mental fatigue and increases their attention — similar to how playing in woodland provides interest, relaxation and stimulates the imagination.