Schools of the 21st Century
At the turn of the 20th century, American education systems hired architects — confident in the criteria of the building type, materials, and construction methods — to design and build schools that would last. These structures, often masonry with solid wood and plaster interiors and filled with daylight, became central to growing neighborhoods of lower- and middle-income immigrants.
This commitment to learning environments for child and community lost its focus around the 1960s. Slipshod renovations and deferred maintenance compromised the integrity of well-built, but out-of-date, school buildings; makeshift temporary structures filled schoolyards with isolated classrooms; and poor-quality schools were erected to meet the bottom line in terms of dollars, space, and design.
More recently, an enlightened contingent of educators, legislators, parents, nonprofits, and designers are striving to rectify the errors of the past 50 years — reevaluating and reconstructing K–12 school programs and buildings in their districts. Meanwhile, an increasing number of architects are working with communities in need to provide good classrooms for the children. Thoughtful, sustainable architecture, no matter how basic, and public outreach are equally essential elements in the development of the “master plans.”
Many of these efforts are taking shape as we settle into the 21st century. For this special section, we selected a group of public schools that demonstrate the viability and potential of such initiatives through sustainable design, as well as student and community engagement. For a more global perspective, our feature story looks at the elegant solutions of three architects who have devoted much of their time and expertise to designing and building simple school buildings for needy areas in Haiti, Burkina Faso, and the Southeastern United States.
By most accounts, this scholastic renaissance should progress into coming decades. This is good news for architecture — and even better news for our kids.
Cedar Ridge High School
Round Rock, Texas
Photo © Charles Davis Smith
Charles W. Morey Elementary School
Photo © Robert Benson Photography
Gary Comer College Prep
John Ronan Architects
Photo © Steve Hall / Hedrich Blessing
John A. Dubiski Career High School
Grand Prairie, Texas
Photo © Charles Davis Smith
L.B. Landry High School
New Orleans, Louisiana
Photo © Timothy Hursley
Lynnwood High School
Photo © Michael Cole
New York Harbor School
Governors Island, New York
Photo © Anna-Marie Kellen
Rogers IB Environmental Magnet School
Tai Soo Kim Partners
Photo © Paul Warchol Photography
The School Without Walls of Washington, DC
Ehrenkrantz Eckstut & Kuhn Architects
Photo © Joseph Romeo
Thurston Elementary School
Photo © Lincoln Barbour