“I like spaces where there is lots going on, but sometimes I just need a quiet place to study and hang out with my friends.”
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.

Spaces for Social Learning

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We began by establishing principles that can guide any kind of enlightened school design. One is that the built environment facilitates discovery through active participation. Another is that growth occurs when students are allowed personal responsibility.

Aspen Middle School
Aspen Middle School
Aspen Middle School
A central atrium (top) offers a big space where students can gather to eat, play games, or watch a performance. Seating and workspaces at lockers (middle and above) provide more-intimate places to socialize and study.
Drawings: © Liselle Coker (top); David Mackay, Miller Hull partnership, (middle and above)

Aspen Middle School
Team from left: Cliff Hardison, Thomas Jefferson High School; Ruth Coates, AIA, Miller Hull Partnership; Liselle Coker, Howard University; Kerry Leonard, AIA, OWP/P

Finally, opportunities for one-on-one interaction foster social awareness of other cultures’ perspectives and ideas. We confined our discussions and design concepts to finding ways to encourage the kind of learning that occurs when students are socializing with each other informally. We already knew that multi-story atria found in shopping malls are successful in attracting kids and encouraging interaction. This idea is as old as the Greek agora. And yet, the controlled chaos and excitement of centralized spaces is not conducive to the social learning of all types of students. We designed arc-shaped seating pods built around lockers, which are, in most schools, the only form of personal space, where students can gather for peer-to-peer and small group study. To maintain the connection to the atrium, we substituted balconies for typical double-loaded corridors in the levels above the main floor. Schools should provide a flexible framework that allows students the freedom to achieve common educational goals in individual ways. Providing spaces—large and small—for groups gives them the freedom they need to develop personal responsibility skills.