THE CLASSROOM, published in 2010 features an essay "Connecting Learning and Learning Environments". Through the article, Peter Brown establishes a precedent for intertwining education and design, then illustrates ideas shaping the next generations of school design based on shifts that are occurring within the current educational landscape. The book is available from WASMUTH. This post is number four in a series of seven.
Change is a fundamental issue in school planning – not whether a school will change, but how often. Flexible schools acknowledge that educational change will occur and are equipped to accommodate operational changes with ease.
Current funding models for public schools in the United States provide capital funding at the beginning of a building’s life span and ongoing operating funding over the life span of a facility. Rarely are additional significant capital funds available for several decades after the initial investment. Unlike corporate environments that occupy core and shell lease spaces that are renovated every 5
Schools also have varying horizons for changes: decade-by-decade, year-by-year, term-by-term, or changes that can occur daily. Three planning strategies that address operational change in educational environments are flexible planning, flexible spaces, and flexible classrooms.
Levelland – a cotton and petroleum producing community in West Texas – explored flexible planning concepts for their replacement elementary schools. With a site situated at the juncture between commercial and residential, the school design places public functions to the street, effectively extending the central business district on one side, and nestles academic teams toward the residential areas of the community.
The planning of the elementary schools is organized into flexible academic teams of 120 students and 6 teachers each. Over the life cycle of the school, team structures can change to allow grade level groupings, various styles of multiage groupings, even supporting a series of small schools with the overall structure. Considering a range of organizational strategies in the planning process allows the school to change operationally without significant (or any) renovations to accommodate organizational change.
The academic teams are programmed with a range of educational spaces to allow whole group, small group, large group, formal, and informal instruction. Classrooms open onto student resource commons, eliminating corridors, and expanding educational opportunities outside of classroom areas. The resource commons allows informal learning, group performances, large group lectures, and places to display and demonstrate the work product of students.
Classrooms are planned with a flexible furniture package that can be quickly reorganized to accommodate a range of instructional styles. Walls are retained for presentations, whole group discussions, small group discussions, and individual work, and can accommodate projection, writing, and display of student work. A variety of furniture types encourages formal and informal discussions, can be transformed to allow traditional lectures, seminars, group work, and individual work, and at times can be rolled away to allow presentations and performances. This degree of flexibility extends the functional life of the school by anticipating and encouraging change.