Prakash Nair is the most widely published Education Architect in the world. He has published extensively in both architecture and education journals including five Commentaries in Education Week. He is the first author of The Language of School Design, the definitive treatise on school design, which is now in its third printing. This book has been distributed to over 75 countries.
Nair has worked in the field of education and school design for over 25 years with direct involvement in the creation of over kr74.12billion worth of school facilities. Over the last 11 years he has worked as a globally renowned consultant specializing in innovative schools. As the Founding President of Fielding Nair International (FNI), an award winning school planning and design firm with consultations in 38 countries, Nair has worked on numerous innovative school projects for both public and private school clients. FNI has also worked to write policy for many national, state and local governments. Nair has traveled extensively and keynoted many regional, national and international conferences.
Nair is the winner of the MacConnell Award, the highest honor worldwide for school planning and design. He has Masters Degrees in Architecture and Urban Planning from the University of Illinois and The City University of New York respectively. He also earned a Certificate in Urban and Regional Planning from the University of Oslo in Norway. Prior to establishing Fielding Nair International, Nair worked as the Director of Operations for the world’s largest school construction program in New York City.
How did you at first get involved with designing for children/students?
When I realized that the work I was doing was not benefiting kids but was all about architecture. Also because I realized that there is a great potential to connect education research about how people learn with good environmental design in a way that would benefit the educational bottom line – which is to empower children.
How do you involve children in a design process?
By having them participate in focus groups and in workshops where we ask them what they like and engaging them to participate in our design process. For example we have learned that students like to have soft seating although schools rarely provide this. We also learned from students that they need more spaces to socialize and also places for independent study and reflection – again places that most school designers do not make sufficient allowance for
Before starting on a project, how do you plan the process?
We do some research on the project – usually via Wen video conferences with the school’s leadership. Then we visit the school with a team that includes both architects and educators and conduct a series of focus groups and workshops to deeply understand the ethos of the client community and the aspirations of the key stakeholder groups. Only from this deep understanding do we embark on design solutions
When working with the users, how does it influence the process?
See response above
What is your optimal result when designing?
That the spaces we design work at many different levels. That we have created something that will stand the test of time, that it will represent the local community ethos, that it will reflect established research about how people learn, that it will be a place where children will be refreshed in mind, body and spirit
How do you plan the process to comply the aim
Again, see the description of the process I have provided above
Do you try to create a sense of ownership for the users? If Yes: How? If No: Why not?
Yes see answer to optimal result above
If you ever feel like you get stuck during a project, or in a process, where do you turn? (colleagues, inspiration from the internet, internet communities, friends, experts etc)
If we follow the rigorous process described above then we are not likely to get stuck because we have the help of our many stakeholders to get us unstuck
If you have worked with children/students and/or teachers how did they take part in the process?
Again, see above – already answered
“We have found that, just as Sir Ken Robins argues in his famous talks about the education paradigm, kids are being taught out of creativity.”
So when you work with people who you feel have unlearned their imagination, how do you go about re-opening that side of them?
Our designs are based on personalizing learning for every student and not mass-producing learning. That means each child has the greatest potential to be creative and retain their unique identity under the educational model that we subscribe to
When working with projects that concern a big part of the community, how do you get them involved?
Through community workshops where we introduce them to the current leading practices globally and then give them an opportunity to question and challenge the ideas that we present
Please tell us about one (or more) methods of your personal favorites, when it comes to opening up the process and creating new ideas?
We use a community workshop that includes a best practice lecture, questions and answers from the audience, a collaborative workshop where all the participants get to have their say and then we give them stickers to write their ideas and post on the wall. Then everyone gets to vote on the best ideas in the room. In this way, we plan our project according to a democratic process that gives a sense of true ownership to our client communities
Please tell us about a good experience while working in collaboration with users.
See above answer
What does that mean to you?
It is a great sense of satisfaction and accomplishment to do something that fulfills me creatively while still making a real difference in the world and helping a group (children) who are not very well represented in decisions that affect their lives.