New research reveals a learning curve for school play space creation

Claire Halliday
Claire Halliday
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For schools looking to create the most engaging, dynamic spaces for their students – from laying artificial turf in outdoor areas for optimal wear and tear capabilities to creating focus-friendly, learning-centric indoor spaces in classrooms or libraries, a new study from Bond University Associate Professor and experimental psychologist, Oliver Baumann has revealed some intriguing results.

The Queensland-based academic says curved or round spaces help enhance positive mood, make people calmer, and boost creativity.

Schools can learn from new findings

Previously, research focused mainly on other elements, such as the integration of nature, as well as lighting within architecturally designed spaces. With Associate Professor Baumann’s new data that investigates the psychological and neurophysiological impacts of geometrical properties, it’s clear schools can incorporate fresh ideas to help students connect with buildings, infrastructure and outdoor play spaces on a deeper, more rewarding level.

Dr Baumann and his team utilised virtual reality technology to explore the impact that curved and rectangular architectural spaces have on heart rate, affective states, and creativity.

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“We placed 35 participants in virtual reality in almost identical offices — one round, and the other rectangular — and assessed their mood, heart rate and responses to creativity tasks,” he says. 

“Those in the round rooms not only reported feeling better but also had a lower heart rate and exhibited higher creative output in a standard creativity task as opposed to those in a rectangular room.”

A timeless emotional response

Dr Baumann believes the positive emotional response round shapes elicit dates back to our ancestors.

“Evolutionarily, round shapes are often associated with safety and comfort. Round shapes lack sharp edges or corners, which are often associated with potential danger or harm.”

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Because we spend the majority of our time inside, Dr Baumann says these results are significant in gaining a further understanding of the effect architecture has on our overall well-being. 

“Rectangular rooms are the settings that most humans are exposed to daily, and the study demonstrated that rectangular room geometry can elicit increased negative mood.

These findings could be applied to a diverse range of spaces, including children’s playgrounds and sports spaces. While Dr Baumann acknowledges that changing the design of our environments isn’t an easy or quick task when it comes to the architecture of buildings, outdoor spaces are a much easier place to start.

For schools considering implementing curved spaces via the installation of play surfaces on school grounds, there are many options available, with a range of surface types, including soft-fall, artificial turf and acrylic court paint, that can easily create a range of curved, soft shapes in bright or mood-calming colours.

“It’s easier for architects and designers these days, with advanced technology, to round out the edges of future projects and, by incorporating curved designs, they can create spaces that improve our mood, reduce stress, and increase creative thinking.”

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Claire Halliday has an extensive career as a full-time writer - across book publishing, copywriting, podcasting and feature journalism - for more than 25 years. She lives in Melbourne with children, two border collies and a grumpy Burmese cat. Contact: claire.halliday[at]