Facility Planning: Design Disconnect

Have you moved into a new school only to discover the unexpected? Classrooms not designed for your needs; narrow corridors that create congestion; a library, cafeteria or auditorium in an undesirable location? Did you approve design drawings not understanding the functional relationships of spaces and circulation patterns?

It's not uncommon. Architects are trained to think in two and three dimensions; they develop drawings and sketches to illustrate their ideas. But administrators and staff often are not trained to interpret design sketches and comprehend the design.

In addition, by the time a new school is complete, a different superintendent or principal may be in charge. An architect may know more about the school operations than the staff itself. This lack of long-term continuity can create design problems.

So how can schools get the best design? The architect and client must collaborate in a four-step process:

  • Educate

    This begins with the introduction to the project during the orientation for the architect and administrator. Visits to notable schools assist in communicating ideas. Visual presentations expose the staff to new ideas. Seminars educate in curriculum trends, scheduling options, teaching methodology, technology and other issues influencing the design.

  • Develop

    Many schools are designed without formal educational specifications. Designing a large secondary school demands Phase I educational specifications. These identify major issues such as educational philosophy, curriculum delivery methodology, staffing, teaming, classroom design, flexibility and adaptability, functional space relationships and community use. Phase II educational specifications include specifics such as design layouts for teaching stations and support facilities.

  • Analyze

    Educational planners and architects analyze all aspects of the operations including section tallies, room utilization and scheduling. The final space program will evolve through several refinements as details are identified for all teaching stations and support facilities. Preliminary cost estimates are analyzed to identify budget concerns. Life-cycle costing and value engineering may be necessary to analyze materials and systems.

  • Create

    An architect begins the design process by creating schematic space diagrams to illustrate functional relationships. Over several months, the floor plan and 3-D characteristics evolve into the final design.

How do you determine if the design will satisfy your needs? Administrators should challenge the architect to demonstrate how the design best satisfies the need. Considering the turnover rate of administrators and staff, it is helpful for a school to commission the architect and planner to conduct seminars on the philosophy and how the spaces were designed to function.

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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