Facility Planning: A Continual Quest

As their counterparts did 100 years ago, educators and designers seek to create effective learning environments.

Beginning in the 1890s, the Progressive Education Movement promoted child-centered education, social reconstructionism, citizen participation in all spheres of life. Progressive educators believed that a new education program could help transform a society of greed, individualism, waste and corruption into one based on compassion, humanism and equality. Our society still struggles with these issues.

John Dewey's Experimental School (1896-1902) at the University of Chicago urged students to be independent and creative thinkers. This was a departure from previous authoritarian models based on memorization. Dewey's philosophy was based on:

  • Recognizing the differences among students.

  • Teaching and curriculum that allows for individual differences.

  • Education that enables students to become valued, equal, and responsible members of society.

  • Keeping up with the changes in industrialized society and sciences.

  • Learner-centered learning.

  • Gaining knowledge useful for real life and for building moral character.

Dewey's Experimental School treated books as supplementary material. Subjects were applicable to everyday life: cooking, sewing, weaving and carpentry. History was studied in terms of how it affected contemporary life. Teachers were guides, not lecturers.

At the turn of the 20th century, education reformers throughout the nation were emphasizing the physical plant as the basis of successful school practice. National architectural research and publications influenced every aspect of the school building. Books and journals emphasized the collaboration of architects and educators. Warren H. Briggs's Modern American School Buildings (1899) approached the school design problem as one of size and materials, while suggesting the avoidance of stock plans.

A century later, “The Classroom of the Future” published in Newsweek, Oct. 29, 2001, described a future learning environment of bigger, more open spaces with more fluidity instead of little classrooms filled with desks in rows; kids working at round tables, but with learning centers, library materials and other tools lining the walls; teachers in a coaching role, directing students to the resources they need to solve problems; and teachers that understand how kids learn.

Education has experienced tremendous changes in the last century. Educators have learned to emphasize the differences in each student. Architects have created a variety of classroom designs to respond to changing philosophies. The venerable self-contained classroom concept has been adapted to offer creative responses in room design, configuration, furniture, fixtures and equipment. Designed correctly, the self-contained learning environment offers qualities conducive to learning.

James E. Rydeen, FAIA, is an architect/facility planning specialist and former president of Armstrong, Torseth, Skold & Rydeen, Inc. (ATS&R), Minneapolis. He can be reached at [email protected].

TAGS: Construction
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