Flex and Flexibility


Garden 1

  • Primary Core Competencies: Design of Educational Facilities
  • AIA CEU: 1. 0 LU
  • Secondary Core Competencies: Educational Visioning


Flex and flexibility are different things, though the words are often used synonymously. A classroom may be able to flex without being flexible. Flex relates more to how we use the space, flexibility to how it is designed for our use. Jane Austen, 1813 / Wayne Hay, 2018 The use of the term ‘flexible’ to describe education environments predates the design of flexible learning environments. In the 1960’s, educators created the term to describe the spaces they wished to occupy. Architects have since been attempting to design those spaces. The results highlight a fundamental difference in the language educators and designers use to discuss flexible learning environments. For designers, flexibility occurs between spaces in the learning environment. They think of traditional classrooms functioning in one manner. That is a didactic or direct-instruction mode. For educators, flexibility between modes of learning can happen in any classroom. One word, but two different meanings. This presentation proposes the terms ‘flex’ and ‘flexibility’ to highlight these differences. ‘Flex’ is how teachers and students use education spaces. All classrooms are able to ‘flex’, but not all have (or need) to be ‘flexible’. Flex occurs as a social contract between teachers and students on how the space is used. A teacher that limits students movements discourages flex. Similarly, introverted students may feel uncomfortable flexing within more open settings. Flex only happens when users allow or are allowed to freely occupy the environment. Flex is not about building. It is about how space is occupied. Designers use the terms ‘agile’ and ‘fluid’ when describing innovative learning environments. Both are attempts to describe ‘flex’ but as built form become synonyms for flexibility. The best designers can do is propose spaces for flexibility. This presentation reviews prevalent typologies of flexible learning environments, and how educators can better flex within them. Some flexible spaces provide more opportunities to flex than others. Even the most innovative learning environments can revert back to more traditional modes of learning. They can become inflexible. Without ‘flex’, flexibility cannot occur.

Learning Objectives

OBJ #1  How teachers and students occupy education spaces

OBJ #2  How designers plan learning spaces

OBJ #3  Provide a common vocabulary for discussions between educators and designers

OBJ #4  Review current typologies of learning environments

Wayne Hay, Associate, K2LD Architects & Interiors