K-12 Insights: Using Design to Meet Student’s Emotional and Physical Needs

As designers of educational spaces, we are often asked two questions by our clients:

  1. What type of environments best enable learning to take place?
  2. What ingredients create the best spaces for children to grow, seek, and explore the world around them?

As part of TowerPinkster’s K-12 design team, I have been thinking about these questions and creating solutions to answer them for years. The following are just a few of the concepts that have evolved over the years and guide our thinking as we engage with the students who ultimately occupy the spaces that we design.

Maslov’s Hierarchy Needs

While there is certainly some criticism of the concepts Abraham Maslov developed back in 1943, many of his points are still valid and should be considered. These psychological theories are easily adaptable to modern school design and can help frame our design thinking. Some practical design applications of Maslov’s theories follow:

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Physiological Needs

Food, water, warmth, and rest. I think we can all agree that until students are well-nourished and comfortable, they will have a difficult time learning. Learning environments must have a human scale, be welcoming and provide physical comfort. Comfort includes the furniture that they engage with, the physical temperature, and a sense of well-being. Creating beauty can also provide a sense of calm for anxious students.

Safety Needs

This subject continues to be a major conversation topic in academic settings. There are many aspects to creating safe and secure environments including pandemic protocols, site circulation / drop off, external harm threats, etc. Unless our children feel safe at school, they will not be able to focus on learning. TowerPinkster has several staff members who have gone through Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) coursework and use those principles to design more secure environments. Learn more about CPTED.


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Belonging & Love

Acceptance and quality relationships are important ingredients in creating a positive learning environment. Schools need to provide for a wide variety of student personality types and associated spaces. One size does not fit all. During the design process, we regularly ask students
what is important to them and use that information to create appropriate spaces. Our solutions often involve breakout space, flexible group work areas, individual study space, and collaboration areas. These kinds of options allow students with different learning styles to feel more connected to their school.



Ah, the feeling of accomplishment – it’s so important! The traditional teaching method of the “sage on the stage” has been replaced in many schools by empowering students how to learn through multisensory activities. For example, hands-on activities allow for students with visual or kinesthetic abilities to participate more fully. This has led to the creation of robotics labs, STEAM centers, maker space, and flexible collaboration settings. Learning happens best when the child’s brain is allowed to explore new concepts on its own while the teacher provides encouragement and direction. Self-esteem grows in the process.


Ultimately the goal is to provide students with the proper tools so that when they graduate, they will continue to be life-long learners. Having been exposed to a wide variety of ideas and approaches to learning, the student is now ready to confidently tackle life. Exposing students to a wide variety of life options provides the highest probability of success beyond school.



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Discover More

Contact one of our K-12 Directors if you would like to discover ways to help your students achieve success. You can explore our K-12 experience here.