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Facility Planning: Artful Integration

A school building can be a work of art.

Art in schools is more than just an art class or display. Aesthetically, the design of a building, exterior and interior, is a sculptural art form. Integrating art into architecture is an added dimension.

Aesthetics in architecture involves art and science, intellect and emotions. Some examples:

  • A mural constructed in colorful glazed tile at an auditorium entry with designs expressing the fine arts.

  • An exterior brick facade of an elementary school with exotic animals expressed in colorful glazed tile.

  • The foyer of a high school with display cases, wayfinding graphics and a clock tower in a storefront facade.

  • A "wall of fame" that offers background of a school's 135-year history.

  • Patterns, compass points, school identity and cultural symbols expressed in terrazzo floors.

  • Displays of comedy and tragedy used in auditorium designs, executed in ceramic mosaics, wood carvings and frosted glass.

  • Graphics to illustrate "Welcome to Kindergarten" with a colorful theme and large-scale animated figures.

Communities and districts also may request artistic design features unique to their culture, such as:

  • Recognition of a city's history as a Mississippi River town in the design metaphor for a new high school. The floor plan mimicked the winding river as the primary circulation route — eddies create student gathering points, and tributaries form the classroom wings.

  • A design metaphor for Maple Grove (Minn.) High School was based on the maple leaf, which was reflected in the shape of the floor.

  • The rotunda entry of a high school included a display on the balcony soffit of the motto of the first graduating class in 1876: Non Scholae, Se Vitae Discimus — "We learn not for school, but for life."

  • Marty Indian School in South Dakota is designed in the shape of the sacred eagle, and a landscaped series of circles expresses the "Land of the Friendly People of the Seven Council Fires."

Sometimes historical features are discovered that add life and meaning to a school and the community:

  • A wall fresco encircling a large room, portraying the history of an Indian tribe and pioneers settling a town, was discovered in a 1905 structure during a remodeling project, and the fresco was restored.

  • The legacy as the oldest high school in Minnesota is reflected in the sculptural shape of a courthouse cupola in the tower, housing the bell used to summon students from 1873 to 1939.

Integrating art and architecture reinforces a building's individual identity by capturing the unique essence or spirit of a community. Integrating art into the architecture increases the personalization of the school and enhances the aesthetic experience.

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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