The Bartlett School of Architecture


Ahmed Tarek Zaky Fouad

PhD thesis: Implications of the spatial design of school buildings: affordances, learning and socialisation

Ahmed Tarek Zaky Fouad


Studying the design of school buildings and the potential of space to serve the learning process, with a focus on the spatial affordances of ‘informal learning space’ to trigger the ‘self-directed learning’ of students.

Primary and secondary supervisors


This research investigates the relationship between spatial design (physical environment) and learning (a mental process) in the context of school buildings. The key link between learning and space is the concept of ‘spatial affordances’. It is defined as the set of possibilities offered by the built environment (spatial design) for functions (actions) performed by the users (students). The research focuses on exploring the spatial affordances of ‘informal learning spaces’ for ‘self-directed learning’, i.e. students taking initiatives to construct their own knowledge.

It is argued that learning as a mental process could take place throughout the school's spaces wherever there is student social interaction. Accordingly, informal learning spaces are presented as spaces outside the classroom; assembly spaces, circulation corridors, staircases, dining areas and outdoor spaces. The research explores the spatial design and configurations of the school buildings through studying the design process and performing syntactic analysis on the school buildings. This contributes to identifying the potential of spatial affordances for students’ self-directed learning (and other social activities) within informal learning spaces.

The project also performs empirical research inside school buildings to study the reality of the building's spatial performance and compare it against the original design intentions. Accordingly, the research could generate design guidelines for the future planning of informal learning spaces inside school buildings with the basic aim of creating space with high spatial potential to fulfil spatial functions and serve the students’ needs.


Ahmed Zaky Fouad aspires to becoming an architect and is continuing to explore the subject. He joined the American University in Cairo in 2009 and, throughout a 5-year programme, he experienced architecture through multiple perspectives, including context, sustainability, functionality, building regulations, user experience and needs. He later moved in 2015 to London (another vibrant, diverse city) to pursue his postgraduate studies at The Bartlett.

During his Master's degree in Spatial Design: Architecture and Cities, his work on the Brazilian favela of Rocinha was published as part of a group design project about informal settlements. He also published and presented a paper at the 11th Space Syntax Symposium in Lisbon, based on his final thesis regarding the spatial design and configuration of school buildings and its impact on the learning process. In January 2017, Zaky started a PhD in Architecture, also at The Bartlett, and is continuing his studies on learning spaces inside school buildings.