Space + Pedagogy: The Reggio Approach

Presented by: Angela McKillip, MArch, LEED AP, NCIDQ

Problem Statement
Many educational facilities extend the latest theories and pedagogical strategies. Too often, these works parallel the needs of teachers, while accommodating the children’s educational and social development. Unique in the present educational climate are the pre-schools of Emilia Romagna, Italy. An early year’s system has evolved illustrating a clear philosophical commitment to the physical environment and its role in the learning process. Reggio recognizes that learning does not take place in a simplistic linear way, but rather in a complex and rich network of interconnecting influences. 

But really, how does space matter? Can a building perpetuate pedagogy? What does a successful partnership between the educational approach, architecture, and user look like?  Using the Reggio Emilia Approach as a vehicle of study, this investigation provides answers to these questions.

What makes the Reggio Approach unique is the coupling of several areas of study: the dynamic and changing role of users, curriculum, civic and social identity, and the documentation and display of work; all emphasizing an innate relationship between context, space and users. 

The underlying assumption is that space matters enormously. It reflects the vision of those who inhabit it; and shapes those visions. Educators in Reggio Emilia speak of space that favors social interaction, exploration and learning; a space that has integrated educational content and is charged with stimuli toward interactive experience and constructive learning. Spaces are welcoming, telling of the projects, activities and daily routines that take place within the school. 

Dynamic Users
In this approach, children are co-constructors within the learning process, equals within society having the right to learn and be active agents within the process. The consideration of students’ needs and rhythms shape the arrangement of space and the physical environment. 

An inquiry based learning process incorporates projects requiring thought, planning, preparation, and execution, the four pieces of any project in life. Children are encouraged to explore their environment and express their understanding through many modes of expression or "languages," including verbal communication, movement, drawing, painting, sculpture, shadow play, collage, and music.

Civic and Social Identity
Inherent within this system of learning is a focus on civic life, or learning through participating. The social skills developed are just as important as their cognitive counterparts. Through shared activity, communication, cooperation, and sometimes conflict, children co-construct the knowledge of their world. The emphasis is not only placed on the child, but on each child in relation to the other.

Documentation and Display of Work
Reggio uses visual expression as a means to communicate learning. In young children, writing and speaking are not as developed, so it can be difficult for children to portray their thoughts. Work is viewed as material to use with the children to reflect, further analyze and develop a learning process. It is also seen as a way to inform the public of the learning occurring within the school.

Space that Matters
Case studies will be examined to reveal a developing spatial language, critical to this inquiry-based, co-learning pedagogy. Through these spaces, children are drawn to a closer inspection of and appreciation for their physical world, and the environments support these investigations.

Can exceptional educational programs, such as the Reggio Approach, exist in spaces not meant to support them?  Yes. Can amazing spaces be underutilized or un-complimented by a curriculum? Yes. The argument brought forth by this hypothesis is that space does matter. When the architecture, community and curriculum are coupled, the results are powerful. In essence, the architecture becomes a three-dimensional curriculum plan.


  • “A Theory For Living: Walking with Reggio Emilia.” Art Education/6. (2004): 13-19.
  • Dudek, Mark.  Architecture of Schools: The New Learning Environments. Wodburn: Architectural Press, 2000.
  • Dudek, Mark. Schools and Kindergartens. Berlin: Birkhauser, 2007.
  • Nicholson, Elanor. The School Building as Third Teacher.  Burlington: Architectural Press, 2005.
  • Edwards, Carolyn. Hundred Languages of Children. Westport: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2011.


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