Facility Planning: Cutting-Edge Design

Many factors affect education planning and design: philosophy, curricula, scheduling, technology, aesthetics and human factors. This can make it difficult to respond to a request for cutting-edge design. Cutting-edge has different meanings to different people. To an educator, it usually means new educational directions. To educational planners and architects, it means understanding new educational directions and creating a design to complement teaching and learning processes.

Cutting-edge design in architecture invokes more than just space and function. It also includes aesthetics and human factors — people-oriented design in behavioral terms.

A recent example illustrates how differing perspectives on cutting-edge design can affect how well a design succeeds. A K-6 school was needed in an area encompassing three districts. School officials, teachers and community leaders researched the most recent findings in education and created a K-6, multi-age school that offers team-teaching and operates with two alternative calendar options.

The design allowed for flexible groupings in open space. It divided the school into three neighborhoods with open classrooms for 280 students. A principal and staff were hired, but they did not participate in developing the initial educational concepts. Consequently, they experienced difficulty in adjusting to the open neighborhoods and flexible classroom groupings.

A new principal, who had been involved in the initial planning and design, was hired several years later. He was committed to the cutting-edge educational philosophies, and the education programs, student achievements and social development now are highly successful. It is crucial to have a building's staff in tune with the design philosophy from the early stages of planning, or to train them effectively after planning is complete.

Before considering a cutting-edge design, a school must:

  • Define cutting-edge by examining its educational philosophies, curricular concepts, and teaching and delivery methodologies.

  • Recognize that a cutting-edge design that replaces an old building but retains an existing staff is much different than having a staff hired for that particular design.

  • Identify who wants a cutting-edge design: the administration, staff or public.

  • Develop planning and design goals that define space relationships.

  • Recognize that cutting-edge design looks to the future and forces change.

  • Hire staff committed to new educational concepts in non-traditional facilities.

Schools that want a cutting-edge design may find it helpful to borrow from the theory of organic architecture; a design should grow from within — from the nature of the need of the teaching methodology and from the learning process of an individual student.

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]

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