Look around a typical classroom, what do you see? Four white walls with four corners, a whiteboard in front, desks lined up in a row, and a computer. Over time, many innovations have occurred and classrooms have gotten more technologically adept. With all these modifications, the structure of a classroom has never changed. Four walls and four corners – boxing one in. What if there was a new way of learning? One that spurs creativity and free-thinking. The key is corners, or the lack thereof. At Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University, a stunning connection was found between curves and creativity, resulting in a change of the traditional classroom setup.
Pictured above is the newly built Nanyang Technological University building, also referred to as “The Hive” or “The Learning Hub.” The building is a collection of 12, eight-story high rounded structures containing 56-cornerless classrooms. Construction took over 32 months and cost $45 million, but it was all worth it. Many considerations had to go into building with curves, a practice that is not widely used. Rather than letting the goal of creating curved spaces stop, architect Thomas Heatherwick and his team simply developed the science, engineering and practices to construct the building. Heatherwick was not just trying to design an eye-popping design, but he was also trying to provide a unique learning space, or “classrooms of the future” as referred to by Andrea Ny, a writer for The Strait Times (Singapore) .
What is being encouraged by this new setting is the ability to collaborate with both classmates and professors. Behavioral researchers and neuroscientists have found a direct preference for curved items over hard angles. This all stems from the hardwiring of the brain and how “curves of an object triggers relief in our brains – an easing of the threat response that keeps us on guard so much of the time” (David DiSalvo) . Allowing students to let their guard down, feel free to think openly, and have an open dialogue with fellow classmates and professors is a driving factor in how innovation is developed. Innovation begins with an idea – one that is thought of as crazy and out of the box. It is then developed through peer discussions and reviews. With some helpful interactions and problem-solving, innovation is born by creating an environment for students to feel comfortable and think outside the box. This is exactly what is missing in current traditional classrooms.
Corners make students feel trapped and lessen the brain’s frontal cortex function (which controls creativity), discouraging unique and outside-the-box ideas. It is hard to think that a simple curved wall can correspond with such impact; however, even simpler items like colors have also been proven to spur certain thoughts and trigger certain brain functions. Studies have shown that the color blue provides focus, trust, logic, communication, and efficiency. Furthermore, the colors yellow and green provide creativity, optimism, confidence, and balance . The benefits of curves and colors are so great that a new discipline of neuroscience has been developed – neuroaesthetics, the study intersecting psychological aesthetics, biological mechanisms, and human evolution. A major focus of neuroaesthetics is the connection of brain functions and surrounding environments.
The next time you need to develop a space, make sure to consider your tasks and purpose. What type of environment do you need to obtain your goal? Consider your styles and colors that will best match the thinking you need from employees or students. While the little details may not seem like a lot, these aspects can lead to a difference in creativity, productivity, and work-balance efficiency. In a world of boxes and corners, it feels nice to finally break out of the box and into a space with some curves.