21st Century School Design

Among the exciting possibilities in education today is this one: the design of schools can change to better support the 21st C. pedagogy and the development of 21st C. skills.  Over the past year, Ashley has had the opportunity to work with one of the great educators in North America, Dean Ena Shelley, and one of the most famous architects in the world, Gyo Obata.  Together, they are transforming an old school to one that will be an inspiration for the future.  This is what Ashley has to say about this exciting process. Ena Shelley is the Dean of the College of Education at Butler University in Indianapolis, IN.  Among her many accolades, she was named Educator of the Year in Indiana.  A year ago, Ena shared her vision of transforming an old school building on the edge of campus, circa 1930, into the new home for her College of Education.  Ena told me that she wanted the building to represent transformational education...innovation and best practice, to enhance the beautiful facade of the old and create a vision for the future.

Cadwell Collaborative and HOK have just delivered to Butler University the schematic design. Butler Exterior Day SW perspective Rendering Among the many patterns that we have articulated in our design, I'd like to highlight three of the broadest ideas, ideas that may be applicable to your own school, in large or small ways (in the end I'll describe three small examples):

  • transparent interconnectedness
  • sustainability
  • interconnectedness with community

Transparent interconnectedness School buildings need to be formed in ways that academic disciplines are distinct AND integrated in spaces that are flexible, transparent, and of varying sizes.  To manifest the transparent interconnectedness even more clearly hallways become galleries for expressions of student/faculty research, places that communicate the learning stories, the dynamic history and the values of the community.

With the College of Education at Butler, our floor plan template was a classic 20th C. school design: a long, centered, double loaded hallway on each floor, with uniform classrooms along each side (with each grade or academic discipline siloed therein).

To change this floor plan we gutted the building back to its essential concrete post frame, and created a gradation of spaces, rooms of varying sizes (large studio-lab-project rooms, medium sized seminar rooms and conference rooms, and small, more private, meeting rooms) all with significant transparency (interior window walls and glass doors).  We then further integrated the rooms with hallway galleries, a meandering hallway of varying widths, designed for displays of student work.  The hallway also offers inviting nooks and crannies for small group gatherings.  As an added feature, we created a faculty collaborative studio, with clusters of work stations gathered around meeting areas.

Butler Interior Day Rendering Sustainability School buildings can be living laboratories for sustainable built environments (carbon neutral with visible and monitored mechanical and renewable energy systems).  School buildings can embrace the natural elements that enhance human productivity: natural light, clean air and even temperatures. HOK School as LIving LaboratoryThe College of Education building will incorporate many of the most advanced systems available today as well as maximize the benefits of passive solar and active water cycling.  Furthermore, the ground level studio/lab will be equipped with a computer monitoring system that will allow students to engage in authentic research on building sustainability issues.

Community To make schools an integral part of their community, school buildings can be open to their immediate surroundings.  The building should signal WELCOME to the community from the entry courtyard and front steps and glass atrium entry.  The building can foster social interaction in comfortable hallways and interior piazzas, and outdoor rooms and gardens.  The details of the building can manifest excellence in their aesthetic beauty.

In the College of Education at Butler University we have included all of these elements. The three renderings included here are of the new atrium and entry tower on the south side of the renovated old school building. Butler Exterior Night SE perspective Rendering

The new College of Education at Butler University will be a beacon for 21st C. school design and 21st C. education pedagogy.  In addition to the exciting possibilities the building will fulfill for the college program, it will also add an eastern hub for campus life as well as an inviting intersection with the surrounding neighborhood and extended community.

For me, working with Ena Shelley and Gyo Obata on this project has been a dream come true.  My hope is that this success will lead to other exciting school design projects.  For one thing, old schools like Butler's are ubiquitous, and each one of them could be renovated in a similarly dynamic way.  For another, all new schools could incorporate the design patterns we have developed.

Furthermore, these same design patterns can be used in incremental renovations of areas of schools or even in one room at a time.  Here are three simple examples:

  1. Insert interior windows or window walls between the classrooms and hallways.
  2. Install a solar panel on site (on roof or on grounds) and link monitoring of electricity to the science classroom.
  3. Transform the walls in the entry to galleries of the best student work.

To see some prime examples of these architectural remodeling patterns in place, come to St. Louis.  Consider attending our Site Seminar April 19th and 20th, 2012, Myth Busters: Challenge Assumptions and Learn for the Future.  To register contact Ashley.