Ludi (@ludiprice) and I attended the preview of Wedding Dresses 1775-2014, currently showing at the V&A. The exhibition is gorgeous, so do go if you can, but what stuck me was not so much the dresses as the feeling whilst we were gazing at them, wandering around in the darkish space, watching all the videos and learning all the time. Why isn’t going to university quite like that? Why are the spaces not so conducive to engaging with material? It could be the cost – I admired the videos playing silently in the recesses of the fabulous domed ceiling about us; Ludi agreed: “.. but we need a dome …”, although I am not sure that cost is everything. The classrooms at City are undergoing an expensive refit – with a theme that reminds me of the barbie doll furniture I used to play with as a child, reinterpreted in 21st century windowless bunkers. What is taught in these rooms and what is learnt? I hope nobody thought to consider these questions, but I have a suspicion that, depressingly, this is a considered, contemporary vision of learning space.
We left the wedding dresses and wandered into the Raphael Gallery (shown above). “The game is,” I explained, “to come here just before closing time, and wait until you are the last person in the room – then for a few moments, in this calm, cathedral like space, all the Raphael paintings here exist just for you…”.
When we ask students to pay £9,000 a year to study face-to-face, we should be confident that we can at least offer a physical space which instills a feeling of timelessness, inspiration, connection with others and above all, a desire to learn.
What spaces say to each of us is subjective, and often personal. But there are spaces which many of us, collectively feel inspired by. Spaces which encourage us to pay attention, to realise that something interesting and important is being communicated. Spaces which objectively promote not just the learning process, but the desire to learn. They are somewhat elusive in today’s educational landscape however.