Returning to school has never been so design-conscious as it is in 2020. The Italian government has bought half a million desks, which include pad chairs designed in Valencia by Alegre Design for the OMP Group. Education in the West is at a moment of inflection, headed toward a change that will allow it to develop with educational and health guarantees. This is a challenge that involves designers and where decisions such as the one taken by the Italian Government go beyond COVID-19: the million desks are evidence of how tomorrow’s classrooms are being created today.
For this to happen, design has had to anticipate the trends. For months now, schools all over Spain, autonomous regional governments and universities have been trying to work out how to adapt their spaces to the education that is going to prevail. Investing in this return to schools will not only influence our present, it will also influence our future. Luckily, the catalogues of solutions are up to date because the business sector behind the World Design Capital 2022 has been at the international cutting-edge of design for years.
Design as an anticipation for success
How is it possible that the Italian Government has found such an immediate and achievable answer to a set of apparently unwritten needs? In the words of CEO and designer Marcelo Alegre, “designing is sensing what people will need in the future”. The studios of Alegre Design anticipate scenarios and trends (they are currently designing products for the years to come). They have clients all over the world, so much so that “in January, when we were attending trade fairs in Asia, we already noticed that something serious was going on”.
The Italian case is just one of the many that have changed the catalogue of such experienced companies as Federico Giner in recent months. This Valencian company is responsible for the green chairs many of us sat on throughout our school years. But 10 years ago, after having been in business for a century, it radically changed its business model to create the school and university furniture of the future. In the midst of a revolution in the concept of the classroom and education, their clients already have a range of solutions available to them.
The green chairs of the 21st century are also designed by Federico Giner
The investment put into the future of classrooms by Federico Giner, with designs by Alegre Design, has ensured that the company’s catalogue is more than up to date today. Even considering the health requirements relating to social distancing and easy disinfection against COVID-19. School and university furniture ready for sale right now, but which has been interpreting educational trends for years: “The tendency is to have individual spaces that are movable, safe, hygienic and easy to clean. The educational space at home is important once again because it is going to be complementary and not only because of confinement”, Nacho Caravaca, CEO of Federico Giner, tells is. They have clients all over Latin America, Africa and throughout Spain.
The decisive role of the Instituto de Biomecánica de Valencia (IBV)
The research and analysis of futures have allowed education to find answers to our current situation in the field of design. But purchases will influence an entire generation, because if there is one characteristic that unites the manufacturers of these products then that is resistance and durability. The decisive role of Valencian design is found in the final stages, when ideas, drawings and concepts have to match the human and social picture: how tall we are, how much we weigh, how we move, how we behave.
Valencian design has an ally that is as steady as it is silent: the Instituto de Biomecánica de Valencia. “Anyone who puts forward a design for a piece of furniture knows that there are certain anthropometric dimensions. We need to provide support for the back, we need to measure the distance to the ground, and we have to think about sizes, forces and shapes. We research, test and offer data, but it is the designers who make the magic happen by turning those technical data into manufacturable, saleable, sustainable and beautiful products”, explains Rosa Porcar, Innovation Director at the IBV.
Robust companies for durable classrooms: the Actiu case
The use of IBV data and results is behind products that range from Ford cars to Stadler train engines or Sp-Berner products. But it is also behind the school furniture that Alegre Design, Federico Giner or Actiu market throughout the world. Soledad Berbegal, a member of the board of directors of the latter and an executive with an excellent reputation in corporate circles, talks about a total change in Education, “finally there is an awareness of how the physical elements in the classroom greatly influence the acquisition of knowledge”. The company sells to a hundred countries.
“Spaces must be flexible and not at all rigid. It’s another way of saying that masterclasses, the days when a teacher would enter the classroom, give a speech and leave, are over. Participation and co-creation are fundamental in classrooms because they breathe the world we live in outside: sharing, generating from the workshop, what can be applied and what can be piled up”. These are the reasons that lead to pieces of furniture that are “configurable, that make things easier, motivate us and are based on digital and connect-ed tools”, Berbegal adds.
Data from the present for the classrooms of the future.
Actiu, Federico Giner or Alegre Design are already working on the classrooms of the fu-ture, but today they are selling their clients school and university furniture that incorporates such present day solutions as electrification. They are working on ideas that are based on the sensorization of classrooms, where temperature, light or the available seats, all consulted telematically, configure a safe space that stimulates participation. Ideas too, that inspire or hybridize solutions, such as whiteboards that are also screens, or desks that are so easy to raise or stack that they can be put to different uses.
“There has been a total paradigm shift in education. We have gone from a system that is all about memorising, understanding and applying, to demanding other abilities: analys-ing, evaluating, and creating”, comments IBV’s Rosa Porcar. “Until the pandemic arrived, it seemed that these skills could only be resolved through ICT (information and communica-tion technologies). Now there is an inevitable focus on rethinking spaces, experiences and presence learning. During the summer we have studied classrooms for all ages with interpersonal distancing and with movable and configurable elements: how it affects con-centration and acquiring knowledge. That data is already available for companies, and it will be part of the designs of the future”, she concludes.