Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Four Steps to Comprehensive School Design

When schools are designed, much of the focus (and budget) is usually placed on the first three steps (1. site selection, 2. facility design and construction, and 3. furnishings). Neglecting the integration of the fourth step, program design, in the design process often results in the failure of the schools to ever become true learning environments.

1. Site selection is important and determines views, quality of light, landscaping possibilities, parking, playgrounds, entry ways, and a variety of other factors that determine the experience of the school by students, teachers, administrators, parents and visitors. How many schools have beautiful entryways but students and teachers enter from the side or back through poorly designed areas often cluttered with dumpsters and maintenance materials? (left)

2. Architectural design and construction provides the spaces for learning and the many other functions that make up schooling. Decisions made at this stage determine whether the site can be appropriately used and what is possible inside the building. Good designers go well beyond considerations of space allocation, hallways, (right) heating, lighting, and plumbing - some don't. Too often, the walls, halls, and rooms are finished in such a way that student work can't be displayed and exhibits are difficult to add or prohibited completely.

3. Furnishings such as cabinets, storage, tables, chairs, smart boards, etc. come from a third budget and determine to some extent how classrooms are arranged and how the learning environment will work. Since furnishings come from a different budget and are often selected by different people, there is often a mismatch between the possibilities created by the building design and the needs of the teachers and students.

4. Program Design (the teaching and learning that takes place in the school), should be a guiding consideration all the way back to step 1. Can the teachers and students go outside for learning experiences? In urban settings can roof tops or playgrounds be maximized as learning opportunities? Can students and teachers reconfigure learning spaces to accommodate a variety of learning activities? Does the design of the facility encourage and enable student and teacher made exhibits and interactive displays (like in children's museums) that enhance learning? Have maintenance, safety, and security issues been poorly resolved so that learning opportunities are inhibited rather than enhanced? Are teachers and students treated like "renters" and discouraged from using the facility to its full advantage?

Landscapers, architects, and interior designers who work on educational facility designs need to start with an understanding of the teaching and learning that takes place in the school. Schools need to be designed to maximize the learning environments and the productivity of teachers and students rather than the efficiencies and economies of landscaping, construction and maintenance.

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