Learning By Design: Physical Spaces

Environments convey messages. Messages like “grin politely and pull your shoulders back” or “chill, relax, take your shoes off”. How does physical space communicate one message over another?

At DBC, the stakes for communicating a positive message are high. Here,  70+ students spend at least twelve hours a day, 5-7 days/week doing intensely challenging brain and team work. They have daily deadlines, are expected to pair up and work together regardless of their different learning styles, levels of experience, life outlook or personality. What does the optimal space for a diverse group of students who are learning intensely look like?



A shared open space creates a culture of “we’re all in this together”. Open a room up and students can easily move to a nearby table to seek help. A busy instructor is no longer simply “unresponsive” but can now be seen helping another student. Students seen focusing on their tasks motivate other students to do the same. The bustling energy makes the space feel alive and fluid, open for experimentation and co-creation.


Light hints at possibility and can dispel frustration. Difficult challenges don’t appear quite as scary under light. When peering into a dark text editor for 12 plus hours a day, light becomes a refuge, a source for energy and motivation. At DBC, a gigantic ceiling window is responsible for flooding the space with natural light. Couches and chairs welcome students to play, nap, lounge or chat underneath it.



“Circles aim to create a space in which participants are safe to be their most authentic self.” (From The Little Book of Circle Processes by Kay Pranis) Morning check-ins and feedback discussions happen in circles. At DBC, tables and chairs are arranged in circle formations. Going back to ancient practices of sitting around a fire, table or centerpiece together, a circle creates a safe space for community. And that’s something incredibly important at DBC. Learning and personal growth both happen in communion.

Rolling Chairs

RollyChairs and Whiteboard

Rolling chairs contribute to cooperation and ad hoc group work.  When a student with a confused look sits at one table, it’s easy for a student at another table to roll her chair over to help with the problem. With rolling chairs, groups can easily change their seating configuration or expand their circle to accommodate more students. No screeching, lifting or other uncomfortable side-effects.

Positive Messages


Ok, so quotes can get corny. But when they’re carefully chosen, they can also remind us of a larger goal, or redirect our focus toward a positive framing of something we’re struggling with.  At DBC, quotes can be found in the kitchen, the bathroom, and distributed on walls throughout the space. They’re as simple as “Don’t panic” and as profound as “And what is it to work with love? Work is love made visible. And if you cannot work with love but only with distaste, it is better that you should leave your work and sit at the gate of the temple and take alms of those who work with joy.”- Kahlil Gibran



DBC’s goal is to help students grow both personally and professionally. And much like light, plants signal possibility and growth. Whene placed in the hallway and throughout the room, they can serve as subtle reminders of this.


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