Saturday, March 12, 2011

Four Steps to a 5D School

A 5D School is an immersive environment where the images, objects, spaces and experiences contribute to learning. Designing a 5D school takes place in four stages:
1. The natural environment: What is the site of the school? What are the views outside the windows? Is there a courtyard that needs some designing? Does the site need plantings replaced?
2. The building: This is the architects work. What is the building itself like? Have teachers been consulted during the design process? Has the architect left some room for the students and teachers to add their personal touches?
3. The Furnishings: This comes out of a different budget. Are the tables and chairs attractive, functional and appropriate for the room? Are there necessary tools (paper cutters, storage racks, mobil storage, interactive boards, etc.) to enhance the learning experience?
4. Where's the sparkle? What makes the room unique and inviting? Is there a signature item or place in the design that gives it an identity (left)? Where are the places where teachers and students can add interactive exhibits as part of the curriculum? Unless it is planned in advance this can cause expensive retrofits and may come out of the teacher's supply budget.

Let's take these four stages and just think about lighting as an example.
1. Is there natural light coming into the room? Can it be modulated with color, darkened when necessary and made to provide special lighting effects?
2. Unless prompted, the architect usually provides only overall lighting - commonly bright, evenly distributed and boring.
3. Can you light specific areas - displays, walls, working groups, etc.? Has the architect provided some track-lighting or other means to light a still-life or display when necessary?
4. What can you do to provide some sparkle in the environment - a string of lights around the ceiling, a couple of attractive lamps, some colored lighting effects (right)?

Plan the design or redesign of your school in these 4 stages: the site the school sits on, the school building itself, the furnishings in the school, and the personal touches each teacher and class of students makes. Each of these factors comes out of different budgets so planning ahead can prevent costly retrofits or change orders. Are the outlets placed where you need them in step two so that steps three and four can be carried out efficiently? Did the architect provide 2D and 3D display spaces in the original plans in stage 2 or does this take extra expense to retrofit in stage 3?

Regular classroom teachers usually have control only over stage 4 (often with many restrictions) but design teachers should work to be involved in all 4 stages for the whole school (not just their rooms). Be sure the architect leaves room for what students and teachers contribute to the design of the school.

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