Erasmus student reflects on time at BREI
16 August 2019
Erasmus doctoral student Celeste Rubino has just completed five months at BREI / Global Centre for Learning Environments where she researched the links between design and pedagogy in schools built under the Building Schools for the Future programme
What are you studying in Italy and at which University?
I’m undertaking a PhD at Department of Civil and Building Engineering and Architecture (DICEA) at Polytechnic University of Marche (UNIVPM) in Ancona. My research topic concerns school buildings and how architecture responds to the changing needs of the 21st century school in the contemporary city. My interest in scholastic architecture originated with the university education in architecture and with the experience of art and design in secondary schools in Italy.
Have you taken part in the Erasmus Program before?
Yes, I took part in the Erasmus program during my university studies in Architecture at Polytechnic of Milan. My first participation in the Erasmus Program was in 2001, at the Polytechnic University of Valencia, in Spain. I was there for 10 months, during which time I took university exams and started research for my degree thesis.
What attracted you to taking part in the Erasmus Program?
The Erasmus Program represents an opportunity to carry out university research more broadly, to learn other research methods and to confront the prospects provided by an international stimulating environment. I decided to participate in the Erasmus Project at the Global Centre for Learning Environments at BREI because one of the main research areas of this department is about learning spaces and changes in contemporary society.
While at BREI you have been studying UK school buildings constructed under the Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme. Was this an area of interest before you arrived at UCL?
Yes, it was. In carrying out my research on school architecture, many critical points emerged regarding contemporary schools in Italy. In addition to finding a lack of new buildings, I realized the inadequacy of a programmatic plan on how to build new schools considering physical, pedagogical and social issues. I decided to expand my research by looking at good practices carried out in other European countries. I found documentation and books dealing with the Building School for the Future, so I started to study it in detail. BSF has allowed the construction of many interesting schools in aspects concerning my research. Some are designed by excellent and renowned architects, so I wanted to visit and study them in-depth.
What work/activities have you undertaken while at BREI/Global Centre for Learning Environments?
My research activities at BREI have been very heterogeneous and allowed me to expand my knowledge thanks to seminars and comparisons (exchange of views) with academic community and architects who are experts in learning spaces. Specifically I attended conferences at BREI about Learning Environments and at UCL Institute of Education (IOE) about children and school education.
Being part of a renowned Department and University, such as BREI and UCL, has opened the way for me to interview university professors and architects from notable architectural firms in London and visit schools built within the Building School for the Future programme. I also had the opportunity to interview representatives of schools and other neighbourhood educational agencies in the London Borough of Camden and participate in their cultural events.
Equally relevant was the opportunity to access well-equipped (well-stocked) libraries such as the Bartlett Library, British Library and IOE Library. I had the opportunity to visit and use other research resources, such as archives and specific bodies that deal with urban spaces and city themes such as Camden Local Studies and Archives Centre and Swiss Cottage Library.
What have you learned academically from your work and time at BREI/Global Centre for Learning Environments?
I believe I have improved the structure of my research, making it more effective thanks to the direct observation of the case studies, and selected following analytical reasonings.
My tutor at BREI, Professor Alexi Marmot, guided me in this research path in the stimulating but also very wide and varied environment of London and UCL. This ensured that in a limited time I focused on the core of research and I applied the right strategies to move forward. In implementing this process, I learned to set up a better scientific research methodology and to develop more precise and critical thinking based on a direct approach to the issues addressed.
What have you learned personally?
I realized that much can be learned by comparing different scientific approaches and visions about architectural study and learning environments. Moreover, the study of schools and their users in a complex society, so different from the Italian one, allowed me to better understand the entirety of the issues concerning learning environments.
The analysis of London schools built in recent years thanks to the BSF has reinforced the view that the topic of school architecture is not just about constructive or educational issues, but it concerns the whole city and society.
School conception, management and use are not only the responsibility of architects or educators, but also a multitude of figures and bodies that gravitate in school districts, including families, other cultural agencies and those who work in public policy.
The integrated approach to school architecture and its role in the city implemented in England by the BSF, and carried out today by school staff, families and local communities in the case studies I examined, represents Giancarlo De Carlo's ideas on the role of the school, expressed as far back as 1946 and difficult to implement in today's Italian context:
“The school urban planning issue has become the urban issue of the city. The school as a nucleus of social life, closely linked to the life of the community, not limited in time and space, extended to the entire existence of the citizen and to the whole environment of the city, becomes an essential element in the evolutionary process of contemporary society. The prime interest of public education is to achieve, through collective means and systems, a better political society […]. The school is no longer, or with good reason, inserted into the neighborhood, but becomes its nucleus.”
(Giancarlo De Carlo, La scuola e l’urbanistica, Domus, 220, 1947, p. 13-17.)
What were some of the highlights of your time at BREI/Global Centre for Learning Environments?
An exciting aspect was the opportunity to concretely observe the school architectures that I studied for a while from publications and magazines, during my doctoral research in Italy. I could interview architects and users to evaluate the potential in educational and urban fields in their respective districts.
I had also enjoyed the stimulating environment of BREI, where the design of spaces and furniture arrangements reflect many features of a future ideal school. In addition to being a place where people work well and can establish pleasant working and social relationships, BREI provide a lesson in designing learning spaces.
Will your time at BREI/Global Centre for Learning Environments influence any of your future research or your approaches to architecture?
I think so. My research time at BREI has given me a broader perspective on contemporary architecture role in society, enhancing my research process and teaching me to be more flexible in changing methods and objectives when necessary.
Would you recommend the Erasmus Program to other students?
Yes, I do. It is an excellent opportunity to increase academic education, to improve foreign language skills and to be European citizens more aware of common values and differences between different international contexts.