Gone are the days when a teacher stands at the front of the classroom instructing students, all facing forward. Gone are the days of chalkboards and textbooks as a sole means of instruction, and gone are the days where computers are confined to the library for research. This is the 21st century, and school designs of the past are no longer sufficient to facilitate the way students are learning.
Modern school design must be flexible.
As designers, we must anticipate the varied use of each space and accommodate future changes. Furniture that can be used by a single student and later grouped for collaboration is essential. Today, furniture manufacturers make triangular and trapezoidal student desks that pull apart for individual use and fit together to create clusters for group interaction. Wireless access for tablets and laptops is critical to the flexibility of a space. Built-in casework should meet the storage needs of the instructor, but also remain general so the use of the room can be changed. In a recent elementary school project, we provided student cubbies in each classroom for the maximum number of students allowed per class regardless of the intended use of the space when the building was opened. This provided the administrators with the flexibility to move classes, instructors, etc. Classrooms must be able to adapt, not only from year to year, but as students move and learn throughout their day.
Modern school design must support current technology and adapt when new technology is introduced.
When planning, we must all think beyond the current status quo. Technology changes so fast, and a new way of doing things can be adopted even before a building is constructed. For example, a school district asked us to plan for interactive boards with a short-throw projection arm on every classroom instructional wall. From the time the project was designed until it was under construction, technology changed. Manufacturers were offering an interactive flat panel that eliminated the need for the short-throw projector. Key technology trends that we have seen in educational facilities include wireless access, use of interactive boards, and one-to-one ratios of students to laptops, notebooks or tablet computers. We need to consider how all of those electronic devices are charged and maintained throughout the school day. We need to research and stay abreast of technology manufacturers’ current offerings and what they are planning to roll out next.
Modern school design must create inviting, feel-good spaces where students and staff feel inspired.
Having natural light in every teaching space is a must. For example, we have specified woven fabric window shades on all exterior windows so exterior views were never obstructed. Teachers and students always have a view even when the shades are pulled. Classroom acoustics are also a key component of creating a comfortable space. We must research and specify materials that provide the correct acoustical properties. Colors, textures and finishes play a key role in creating an inviting space. A common request is to make a school’s interior seem non-institutional. Introducing warm colors with bold and playful accents will create a comfortable backdrop for student learning.
Modern school design must be sustainable.
There are so many facets to sustainability, but let’s focus on the pieces that relate to classrooms suited for the 21st century. Daylight must be incorporated into core teaching spaces. Natural daylight reduces energy costs because light fixtures can be reduced, dimmed or even turned off. The use of daylight has a positive impact on staff and student morale as well as enhancing an occupant’s experience within the space. It just makes you feel better! Operable fabric window treatments shade the space from sunlight enough to darken the room and show projections while never losing a view of your surroundings. If specified correctly, these shades can also contribute thermal properties that impact energy costs.
Modern school design is not stagnant.
It morphs and changes as educators find new ways to teach the youth of America. Designers must stay at the forefront of trends, concepts and technology that drive the world of education so that we design modern school buildings that envelop and support student learning.