Building Great K-12 Schools in Economically Challenging Times
In these tough times making good school design decisions has never been more difficult or more important. To find out how some of the nation’s top architects and administrators are coping with these challenges attend Architectural Record’s Schools of the 21st Century Symposium. It will be held Friday, April 9th, at the Hyatt McCormick Place in Chicago, the day before the NSBA Conference. The event is free of charge and is being presented with the support of McGraw-Hill Education and the American Architectural Foundation.

Click here for more information.

Teaching by Example
Project teams for six schools tackle diverse design problems, creating high-performing buildings for high-performing students.
By Joann Gonchar, AIA

Schools, like other buildings, are the outcome of innumerable and complex factors, such as the demands of clients and occupants, the particulars of site and climate, and practical concerns like budgets and codes. And the six schools on the pages that follow are no exception: They are each the unique product of fulfilling the needs of the students and educators they house, their institutions’ curricula and philosophies, and their surroundings.

For example, the design concept behind a magnet school for the performing arts in Trumbull, Connecticut, was born of the need for acoustic separation between classrooms and the desire for a shared space where students could socialize and work together informally. And the scheme for a school for deaf and blind children in Glasgow, Scotland, is a response to its setting among massive beech trees in a city park. The resulting serpentine plan allowed for a curvilinear inner street that serves both as the connection between programmatic elements and as a wayfinding device.

Some of the schools featured here have dramatic settings, like a middle school in Aspen, organized to make the most of spectacular views of the Colorado Rockies, or a performing arts center on the campus of an international school in Shanghai, with a rooftop terrace that looks out over the city’s dynamic skyline.

Designers for a few of these schools were motivated by a desire to foster a sense of community within large institutions. One of these is at the edge of Phoenix, where architects created a mini-college campus, dividing the 2,000-student facility into more intimate learning environments and multiple buildings. Architects for an elementary and middle school in the Bavaria region of Germany took a similar approach by breaking up the single “megastructure’ originally called for in a master plan into three bar-shaped structures. That arrangement provides children of each age group with a building they can call their own.

Despite the diversity displayed in these case studies, the six buildings share, to a greater or lesser extent, a commitment to sustainability. All the schools included here strive to maximize the use of daylighting, and most include other resource-conserving strategies, like radiant heating and cooling, well-designed exterior envelopes, and natural ventilation. Such features are not only earth-friendly, but occupant-friendly as well. They help create environments that are comfortable and conducive to teaching and learning. In short, sustainability is not only a strategy for better-performing buildings, but one for better-performing students as well.

Case Studies

Concordia International School
Shanghai, China
Perkins Eastman


Betty H. Fairfax High School
Phoenix, Arizona
DLR Group


Aspen Middle School
Aspen, Colorado
Studio B Architects


Regional Center for the Arts
Trumbull, Connecticut
JCJ Architecture


Hazelwood School
Glasgow, Scotland
Gordon Murray + Alan Dunlop Architects


Elementary and Middle School
Bavaria, Germany
Mitchell/Giurgola Architects