The Architecture of Creativity

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The Architecture of Creativity
– A research-based perspective on how to build to increase flow in schools

 This abstract was made for the international psychology conference ECPP2010, April, 2010, and was accepted as an oral presentation.

Subject matter:

The purpose of this presentation is to present the research results of the collaboration between Nikolaj Bebe, student of educational psychology, and the private research centre Universe Research Lab under the research project MMALP – The School in the Future. The subject matter is the correlations between architecture, creativity and learning in primary school settings in Denmark.


Creativity has nationally and internationally become a vision which both politicians, researchers, and the public and private worklife tries to understand, achieve and make operational. Additionally, modern creativity research shows that creativity is a competence that can and has to be learned (Craft, 2005, 2000; Csikszentmihalyi, 1997; Amabile, 1996, 1989). Our psychological understanding of creativity, such as inhibiting and promoting factors has, due to research, become more visible during the last decade. But it is remarkable that there has been very little research on how architecture effects creativity and learning (Amabile, 1996). The question is: how does architecture increase and inhibit creativity and learning in primary school settings?




The research has been conducted as a mixed methods project. The foundation was a quantitative questionnaire-based eximination designed by Universe Research Lab that, based on positive psychology, investigated well-being, learning and creativity in primary schools in a danish municipality. Based on this, a qualitative study of five schools who in the quantitative questionnaire-based eximination reported themselves as either very or not very proud of their school’s physical settings, was initiated. Twenty-five interviews have been conducted. Since there has been almost no research on the correlations between architecture and creativity, it was necessary to create an abductive theoretical frame. A large literature study and hermeneutic interpretation of research-based creativity theory in combination with theories of architectural psychology (Walden, 2009; Roessler 2003), architecture and learning (Hansen & Nagbøl, 2008; Kirkeby, 2006; Larsen 2005), and flow (Csikszentmihalyi, 2008, 1997) led to the creation of six hypothetic design principles. These were used as the guiding theoretical frame for the research. The conducted empirical data has been analyzed through meaning condensation and meaning interpretation.

Results & Conclusion:

It’s being concluded that the physical frame has a significance for the outcome of creativity, as it facilitates the outer physical circumstances for flow, differentiated creative learning environments, motivation through physical and psychological involvement, and that the school for the present time and future needs ”all-inclusive” architecture, which can manage to destabilize and reinforce stabilisation in different physical forms depending on the pedagogical purpose. Individual learning styles and personalites also need to be taken into consideration. But the effect also depends on the professionals psychological and organizational flexibility and their understanding of the use of physical environment. Furthermore it is being pointed out that monitoring, in the form of the teacher’s physical presence, has a positive effect on the removal of distracting factors. This leads to an understanding that the physical environment has to provide a flexible transparent complex local learning environment, where you´re able to stay close and have visual contact. However, at the same time you are able to separate the students and contain a complexity, so that the students won´t leave for remote places of the school where the chances for feedback and monitoring will disappear.




Craft, A. (2005). Creativity in Schools. London: Routledge

Craft, A. (2000). Creativity Across the Primary Curriculum. London: Routledge

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2008). Flow – Optimal oplevelsens psykologi. Virum: Dansk psykologisk Forlag

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1997). Creativity – Flow and the psychology of discovery and invention. New York: Harper Perennial

Hansen, M. & Nagbøl, S. (2008). Den ny skole. Århus: Klim

Larsen, K. (2005). Arkitektur, Krop & Læring. København: Hans Reitzels Forlag

Kirkeby, I.M. (2006). Skolen finder sted. Hørsholm: Statens Byggeforskningsinstitut

Roessler, K.K. (2003). Arkitekturpsykologi. København: Lokale- og Anlægsfonden

Walden, R. (2009). The School of the Future: Conditions and Processes – Contributions of Architectural Psychology. In: Walden R., Schools for the Future – design Proposals from Architectural Psychology. Washington: Hogrefe & Huber Publishers