The science of style

Melanie Laing picks out the latest trends in science lab furniture and considers the future for classroom design

No matter what sort of education space you’re looking at, the key word in classroom design at the moment is ‘flexibility’. Modern science teaching involves collaborative work, practical and peer assessments and theory sessions all in the same space, so in terms of fixed and loose furniture, labs have to be easy to adapt.

With space at a premium, dual-function benching layouts are a popular choice. Laboratory layouts which position students on one side of the benching, facing the teacher are a versatile way of maximising space and improving circulation. Locating services off work surfaces and out of reach on the opposite side of the bench gives students room for theory work and the ability to move easily across the bench for practical sessions. Fitting student benching with storage ensures equipment is close at hand. Science benches also offer space to store stools out of the way during practical classes.

One of the most significant trends in further education is the creation of science classrooms which replicate commercial labs. Preparing STEM students for the workplace has become a driving factor for educators and employers and classroom design can play a large part in helping young people make the transition from student to staff member.

Multi-functional teaching hubs with modular soft seating, screened-off spaces with tables and chairs for meetings and breakout areas for individual study help to generate a businesslike feel, encouraging students to work independently and adopt a more professional, responsible frame of mind.

This move towards a workplace-style education environment is also influencing the colours and materials schools and colleges choose for science classrooms. Neutral, white and monochrome colour schemes echoing the style of commercial labs convey professionalism, attracting potential students and business partners alike.

High-quality, durable materials and work surfaces in science and technology classrooms may be costly, but the benefits of attractive, well-designed furniture, fixtures and equipment mean more educators are making this investment for refurbishments and new builds. Hardworking, stylish work surfaces such as Trespa Toplab or Velstone solid surface offer the professional finish found in the commercial environment and have the added benefit of being resistant to the more aggressive chemicals used at FE level – a clear bonus when budgets are tight and you need a science lab whose looks have to endure.

Anyone looking for new science lab furniture must consider how it will incorporate technology, today and in the years to come. Many students already use tablets in their science classes and the predictions are that 3D displays and augmented reality may soon become the norm. Ensuring your furniture can safely accommodate new, large pieces of equipment, cables and wireless systems without incurring significant cost isn’t just a trend, it’s a must.

Ultimately, education designers sense that science labs may become large open spaces which divide into zones, enabling whole classes to be taught together lecture-style or broken up into groups for written work, practicals and projects.

In contrast to the fixed work benches most school science labs have at present, furniture will become even more adaptable, with benches that can fold away or be moved to the edge of the room. Furthermore, we’ll see worktops become more robust in terms of the materials used as they become increasingly more interactive.

We anticipate a greater level of technology will be incorporated into work-surface materials to enable touch-screen desks and interactive screens to be used as a regular part of science teaching. Whilst it’s hard to accurately predict the shape of things to come for science classroom design, what’s certain is it will be a space that continues to be transformed as it takes on the ideas and innovations now developing in the scientific community.

Melanie Laing is director of Innova Design Solutions

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