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Schools of Tomorrow

Envisioning the future of education facilities—10 concepts that will shape their look and function.

With the amount spent on education construction at record levels, and future spending projected to remain vibrant, savvy administrators and planners not only are envisioning what needs to be built over the next decade and beyond, but also what future schools will look and function like. American School & University recently brought together a panel of prominent education architects to explore 10 concepts that will shape future school facilities.


Our panel of experts: 


The American School & University Roundtable was held in conjunction with the American Institute of Architects Committee on Architecture for Education, fall meeting, and moderated by Joe Agron. Roundtable participants include:

Thomas H. Blurock, AIA, Thomas Blurock Architects, Costa Mesa, Calif. Since founding the firm in 1984, Tom has been a formative player in the design of innovative school projects. Designing and planning more than 150 education projects for over 23 school and community college districts, he has become an authority on facility programming, funding strategies and developing schools for rapidly growing urban districts. He has received both state and national design recognition for his work with urban schools.

James A. Dyck, AIA, NCARB, The Architectural Partnership, Lincoln, Neb. In addition to his role as chairperson of the Committee on Architecture for Education advisory group, Jim holds a master's degree in urban planning and policy, with an emphasis on educational planning. Serving as educational planner, designer and president of The Architectural Partnership, he has planned and designed many educational projects and has conducted national workshops on educational environments.

Cheri Hendricks, Assoc. AIA, Broadview Associates, Seattle As principal of a firm representing owners in the planning, design and construction of learning environments, Cheri is a skilled facilitator of the processes leading to excellence in school design. She has a BA in architecture, a BS in construction management and a MS in management with a focus on organizational learning. For more than 12 years she managed the design and construction of schools for a large school district in Washington.

Kerry Leonard, AIA, Senior Education Planner/Principal, OWP/P, Chicago For more than 25 years, Kerry's career has been focused on educational architecture. He is Principal and Senior Education Planner in the Education Group at OWP/P, a 300-person architecture/engineering/consulting firm. In addition to completing his second year on the CAE Advisory Group, Kerry is involved in educational client organizations, such as ASBO (Association of School Business Officials) and AASA (American Association of School Administrators).

Pamela Loeffelman, AIA, Perkins Eastman Architects PC, Stamford, Conn. Pam has been involved in the planning, design and management of a range of projects including academic, cultural, residential and commercial facilities during the past 24 years. As an advocate for architecture for education, Pam has served on numerous education architectural design juries. She is an active member of the American Institute of Architects and serves on the Committee on Architecture for Education Advisory Group.

AS&U: We're here today to stretch our thinking and explore concepts that will shape the future look and function of education facilities. I'd like to start with an area that not only changes as rapidly as we can keep up with it, but also that has become increasingly important to all areas of education. How do you see technology shaping the way education facilities will look and function in the future?

  • Loeffelman: Clearly, technology is an evolving topic. Some of the things that schools are doing, such as introducing wireless technology to the classroom, bring a wide variety of topics and information that I think broadens the dialogue and starts to break down the physical barriers of the classroom itself. This [technology] has huge implications on what the physical reality of a school is.

  • Dyck: Technology integration and connectivity are broad concepts. Not just at the high-school level, but also at the elementary level. Pedagogically, we're going to see elementary as well as high-school students going out more and becoming more involved in the community. Technology will help learners connect with their communities and the global community.

  • Blurock: If you think of technology as a force for change, all you have to do is really think about how it's changed virtually any kind of environment outside of school. Unfortunately, school environments tend to be risk averse and conservative. Maybe [technology] is one of the concepts that will force the kinds of changes that we are talking about in educational spaces.

  • Leonard: The history that we've all had to deal with over the past 20 years in incorporating technology and the changing of technology in our buildings has been very insightful as to how we need to look at our buildings and our building systems. If you look at an HVAC system that is going to change three or four times over the life of a building, it's important to try to incorporate and build in ideas of flexibility into a facility that have been learned from technology planning.

  • Hendricks: There are a number of possible uses of technology into which even we in the business world have yet to tap the potential. In particular, the thing that interests me is this idea of “knowledge communities” or “communities of practice.”

    I think, as a group, those of us on the Committee for Architecture in Education are a community of interest that is exploring some of that potential in terms of the exchange of ideas and information, in a way that's much more powerful than just visiting a website. At some point in the not too distant future, even kids in schools will be able to become members of similar communities of interest. And that's when we will really begin to see the power of technology to bridge those barriers surrounding the isolated classroom.

AS&U: How do you see that changing the way the facility is designed and how it may look in the future?

  • Loeffelman: One of the issues with technology is that you can really individualize a program for a student. For example, take a physics class with 25 students. There's a huge variety in terms of what their knowledge and understanding is because they have access to incredible amounts of information. The physical environment, more and more, has to be designed in such a way that those students can continue on, in some ways, their individual path, but then also learn from each other. That completely changes the notion of having a classroom of 25 or 30 students sitting in rows of tablet-arm chairs.

    There are a lot of implications in terms of budget when you are providing more room so students can be broken out into either individual or small groups. But how do you start to design an environment that isn't necessarily going to be twice as expensive, because clearly we all have budget concerns in providing that envelope? So there are a lot of issues in terms of net to gross, and how do you make an efficient school environment that allows flexibility and adaptability of how and where students are learning.

  • Blurock: I think one of the challenges is trying to anticipate the change. One change that is absolutely inevitable is that, at some point in time, virtually all students will have an individual computer, be it a laptop or whatever form that takes, on a wireless network, which inevitably will be centralized in the pedagogical process. Pam mentioned the 30 chairs lined up in rows; that's not possible in that environment. We're not there, but we know that that's coming.

  • Loeffelman: It's there in a lot of schools.

  • Blurock: But it's not universal, and many of the schools that we plan now don't anticipate that.

  • Dyck: I'm not sure technology will actually carve out criteria for facility design as much as a pedagogical shift where there's far more integration with both the local community and the global community. It's hard for me to say how technology changes will impact facilities, because I think it's more indirect and that the real forces behind how schools will look in the future have to do with how kids learn and how that shapes this teaching and learning enterprise.

  • Loeffelman: Another issue is how can we help make sure that, particularly in those larger school districts that are building numerous schools, that the people leading that process are, in fact, thinking about the future; thinking about the changes. Because, unfortunately, there are still a large number of schools that aren't even interested in that discussion or dialogue.

  • Dyck: There are still a lot of “cells and bells” schools being designed and built today, and no matter what we say today, all of us are going to go home to a lot of clients who are going to do exactly the same thing. Change isn't something that comes easy.

  • Blurock: A major point we need to consider is that most of the environments in which we hold schools today are already built, and will remain built. What we have the opportunity to do with new buildings is create new models.

  • Dyck: But I think you can still create flow; you can still create cluster; you can still create — to some degree — what I would call physical connectivity to reinforce the technical connectivity. Because no matter how far we go with technology, the eye to eye, the physical connectivity including going out to the community or bringing the community in, needs to be reinforced by the architecture.

AS&U: Speaking of community, how can we further incorporate the concept of community into schools of the future?

  • Blurock: I think the world divides into two major camps on that issue. One is where schools are built within existing communities in whatever form; secondly, is where schools are being built in communities that don't yet exist.

    For example, there are rapidly growing places that are planning high schools where housing isn't even built yet. Basically, the effect of that is almost the way virtually everything is built in those kinds of environments: you have a template and everything is kind of standardized and built with very little connection to each other.

    A more interesting world is where schools are built in existing communities; where there are a lot of stakeholders. In that case, school districts are often, because these places aren't always economically healthy, probably the primary developer in that area. And what they do is going to affect more communities than anything else.

    That said, I think there is a natural antagonism between school districts and other governmental agencies, which often leaves the idea of “schools as centers of communities” as an unfulfilled promise.

  • Leonard: What we see typically in schools today is not really community use, or community sharing. It's using a gym occasionally; it's using the commons for a Boy Scout meeting; it really isn't true community use. It's not a community facility — it's a school facility that has some community functions that occur in it.

    I would hope that there is a natural maturation of our society and that we get to the point where the school is just one part of a complex and rich social environment. I'm not so sure that in our American culture we're ready for that yet, and I'm not sure how soon in the future we're actually going to be ready to be able to take that on.

  • Blurock: Cities and school districts need to break down issues of political turf so they are not in competition with each other, but sort of pulling the same line. We still build in new areas buildings that are off on their own; that are separated. It's not just schools, but all kinds of land use. There are people who are trying to change that, particularly in the smart-growth movement. Schools need to become a part of that overall trend, become part of the smart-growth movement by integrating things rather than separating them.

  • Loeffelman: When you look at the success stories, there tends to be one common element, and it has to do with the planning process. Typically, there is always some community of thinkers that is pushing for something that is over and above a school just appearing on a site, or even the renovation of an existing school. It's not just the architect; it is a community of people pushing for an idea that is represented in that community.

  • Dyck: We live in a culture that is requiring more and more accountability. And I think we have discovered that engaging a community opens doors for greater validity to architectural solutions. They really do make good decisions. And I've found that the general community is usually more open to revisiting the question of “How do kids learn” than are some teachers.

  • Hendricks: One reason why true community partnerships don't happen more frequently is that they require a number of complex conditions be met by the client. The places where they have succeeded in creating partnerships that enhanced not only the social community of the school, but also enhanced the educational program, are those places where there has been stability of leadership within the school district over a period of time. In addition, the particular leadership has been one that is inclined to reach out beyond traditional borders — that is not so overwhelmed by their responsibilities in their district roles that they can't reach out beyond organizational boundaries and really build bridges over time.

    It also requires a certain amount of continuity within community or other civic government — because all these things are really based on the relationships of individual people among organizations, and their ability to weave together and sustain rich program opportunities over time. Changes in that leadership, particularly in the early years of a partnership when it is dependent on a few people and hasn't been “institutionalized,” oftentimes results in the dissolution of the partnership.

  • Loeffelman: Innovation assumes risk. The difficulty is, particularly if you are dealing with communities or public funds, there is a certain fiduciary responsibility. So how do you balance being risk takers — pushing the envelope — with that kind of fiduciary responsibility? I think most communities are willing to take chances if they have examples of precedents that are aligned with what they are trying to accomplish and demonstrate a level of success in their implementation.

AS&U: Let's turn our attention to learning spaces. How do you see learning spaces — in regards to how they will look and function in the future — evolving based on some of the issues we've discussed?

  • Dyck: There is a whole culture to the learning environment. First of all, it's not what we call a “spreadsheet approach” to interior design anymore, rows and columns. It's not a lot of hard walls; it's not a lot of self-contained classrooms. There has to be integration and connectivity — from a learning perspective, from a program perspective, and from a spatial perspective.

  • Loeffelman: One thing we've learned from the open classroom of the past is that flexibility doesn't necessarily mean that it should just be a blank palette. There have to be signals of how a space can be used. And I think that when you look at some of the schools that are flexible, there are some very definite uses and signals that are built in to the design of the school, be it backup for power, be it acoustic, be it larger-scale gathering spaces.

    There's always going to be a place for a classroom. The question is does it have tablet-arm chairs and what does it look like today, and how can it accommodate changes in the future. I believe that change is inevitable. The question is how can we best anticipate, best provide, for the flexibility that will allow for learning spaces to evolve over the next 20 years into a new learning paradigm that none of us can truly define.

    I think part of learning is getting groups of people together to have that exchange, and so you're always going to have some version of a classroom, it's just how you define it and what scale you have those classrooms in when you have people get together. Certainly one doesn't want to do away with larger-scale rooms where the entire community is getting together; nor should smaller spaces that allow for one-on-one exchange be discounted. So it's more a definition of what those spaces can be used for.

  • Blurock: Virtually everything about schools needs to accommodate a multiplicity of function rather than a specificity of function; where lots of things can happen rather than specific things. Every time we start talking like this, everybody says “well you're talking about open-plan schools and they were a terrible failure, and how do we avoid the trap of creating architectural solutions for educational problems.” The way you do that is you have to get fairly specific about the things you want to have happen; the multiplicity of what you want to have happen. What's to go on there depending on the time of day and the type of activity, this will sort of naturally generate a multiplicity of activities. Architects are good at taking functions and creating spaces to accommodate them.

  • Dyck: Flowing space is different from open space. We do need definition. To create a big barn and put 150 kids in it and throw a bunch of teachers at them, that obviously was destined to failure. But I believe flowing space has a parallel to learning. This whole notion of flexibility is affected by how easily a multiplicity of teaching and learning settings can be utilized, created and recreated.

AS&U: Going beyond classroom and learning space, how do you see flexibility incorporated into spaces that are more conducive to community use?

  • Leonard: When designing spaces, you need to look at the variety of activities that could occur and the group sizes that are associated with those activities. We've all been in rooms that are so multipurpose that they don't work well for anything. And, in the name of economy, we've tried to consolidate functions that don't necessarily consolidate very well. There are functions within a building, and types of community use, and types of school use, that can be put together because they have similar characteristics or serve a similar group size.

    There are a lot of pretty good buildings that were built 50 years ago that have been able to be adapted and modified to some of today's needs by the addition of specialty spaces that weren't originally necessary in those buildings. The question of whether those are good facilities for tomorrow still needs to be tested, but I think the key there is not to try and make a space do more than it is capable of doing. Look at the variety of spaces that you might need for a variety of functions, and make sure that you're providing enough of those, or the distribution of those, within a facility so that a lot of different things can happen in the future. You can't predict it [the future], but you can try to accommodate it.

  • Blurock: It's interesting to think about things that you know will inevitably change. I mean, we know that eventually we are going to have wireless computer networks, and yet we continue to build hard-wired tables with a number of computers on them in a classroom. But technological systems have their own inherent flexibility — you can go anywhere and not be tied to a wall or electrical plug.

  • Dyck: I think flexibility has a lot of different layers, and you can integrate a lot of these topics we're talking about into this notion of flexibility: flexibility moment to moment, hour to hour, day to day, month to month, year to year. And it has to do with the notion of real-time learning and the fact that, from moment to moment, you might need a different apparatus and a different connectivity and a different resource of some sort, and having that sort of flexibility. Pam has said, and rightly so, that we have to give architectural definition and still build flexibility.

    Another layer of flexibility is the complete integration of community into school. For example, does an adult have to learn in a different place from a teenager? The other question is, does a teenager, does a kindergartener learn differently from an adult? It's a whole notion of programmatic flexibility. I think this notion of integration requires a high level of flexibility, the end of which we can hardly begin to define.

  • Blurock: How much of this depends on moving teachers out of their own classroom?

  • Dyck: Well, that's step one. Obviously, there's a huge amount of resistance to that, because that's a turf battle that's existed since the beginning of the one-room school. That approach is convenient for the teacher in a conventional teaching setting.

  • Blurock: Turf is the enemy of flexibility and community and all that stuff.

AS&U: Switching gears a bit, I'd like to talk about sustainability. Many education administrators don't realize the full spectrum of what sustainability can afford school facilities. How will sustainability influence the way schools look and function in the future?

  • Blurock: If sustainability is not inevitable, how are we going to survive? I think there are several items. First of all, there's awareness. Second of all, there are still too many schools that are so concerned with first cost that they don't consider life-cycle cost.

  • Loeffelman: When you look at sustainability and all the topics that it encompasses, isn't that what we're all supposed to be doing anyhow? Aren't we supposed to reuse existing resources if we can? I think part of sustainability is breaking down the myth that it's smoke-and-mirrors and bells-and-whistles and all these different things. There are a lot of tenets that are part of sustainability that are just part of good design.

    The issue of funding sources and who's controlling the operating dollars vs. first-cost capital dollars is a huge topic, both in terms of K-12 and higher education. It's totally different departments, so how are you going to get people to agree that they should spend more out of their pocket of money just because it's going to save those guys pockets of money down the line. This is something that really needs to be addressed from a policy level.

  • Blurock: And if you look at the schools we are building today versus the schools that we built 50 years ago, one of the stark differences is the amount of energy they take to operate. On the west coast, 30 or 40 years ago, you would never air-condition a school building. Today, it's different. So, at the same time that we are talking about sustainability, we have more electrical requirements, more HVAC requirements, generally more energy requirements. How do we resolve those apparent contradictions?

  • Dyck: I like to look at sustainability starting with learning. What is sustainable learning? It's connected, thematic. The important thing is to talk about sustainability at the beginning as to what is sustainable learning. It's not just rote memorization like schools in the past. It certainly has to do more with understanding.

    Then you proceed to discuss what is sustainable programming. That's where the community, integration, comes in. Where you truly get the whole notion of the learning community. Then once we accept sustainability as a whole value system or lifestyle, then we can start talking about the physical aspect, such as energy conservation, daylighting, recycling, siting and planning, reusing existing infrastructure, etc.

  • Hendricks: We can't overemphasize the significance of the fact that our culture overvalues low first cost. One of the big disincentives to more sustainable building practices is the fact that in many states there are two buckets of money — capital and operating — and an impermeable barrier between them. You can't pull from operating money to expend a little additional first cost, even though you might save ten times that over the building's life.

    There also is a general cultural tendency to think in the short term. As an example, there are a number of large districts that are putting up buildings very quickly to meet demand, and relying on prototypes to deliver buildings quickly. One of the many problems with the prototyping of school buildings is often little attention is paid to the most basic levels of siting and looking at how climate and sun play into the building's placement. These are the foundation concepts of sustainable building.

  • Leonard: I would compare sustainability to what we saw with technology. When technology and computers first were making their impact on education, some people said this is the savior for education, and technology will radically change education. That's not true. It has changed education, but I don't think it's a radical change. Sustainability and sustainable communities need to be viewed at a big-picture level. Some people only see one way — a sustainable way; just like some people only saw a technology way.

    We're starting to deal with those [sustainable] issues, but on a more practical level. How does it save energy dollars or how does it save long-term maintenance costs? And people are starting to understand the issues; the added layer of sophistication that technology has brought to our planning and design of schools, the added layer of sophistication that sustainability will bring to that, are just a cumulative adding of layers of sophistication that make our job a little bit tougher — but make our buildings a whole lot better.

AS&U: Environmental factors have had a huge impact on many education facilities, from asbestos and lead to mold and IAQ problems. How do you see indoor environmental quality influencing how schools will be used or look in the future?

  • Dyck: There is a growing body of research in terms of how IAQ, as well as other environmental factors, affect learning. The EPA has a kit focusing on school IAQ issues, and I think that's a great tool. Research supports the fact that indoor air quality affects learning, health and human development.
  • Loeffelman: Isn't it interesting that people are starting to recognize that environment affects learning. As architects, we've always said that the environment affects learning. Now, there are studies about daylighting; there are studies about indoor air quality; there are studies about this and that. What is important is that we are starting to be able to statistically, if you will, support good design.

  • Hendricks: One of my fears about the whole issue of indoor air quality is it has the potential to do away with all sorts of soft surfaces in the school environment. I think this is one of the places where our values about schools are in conflict.

    There are some folks in the IAQ arena who are advocating that we discontinue any use of carpeting in schools, and I fear that will also eventually mean any upholstered furniture. While I understand that some environmental factors have strong effects on some children, we're at risk of other kinds of compromises for all. If we're serious about accommodating individual students' needs, then we should be providing a variety of surfaces and a variety of kinds of furnishings where kids can be comfortable. As adults, we get uncomfortable sitting all day in one position, but children are even less able to do that and maintain any attention or focus. So I see this trend as having unintended consequences for our ability to accommodate student learning in a variety of other ways.

  • Blurock: One of the themes that has occurred over and over again is are we going to plan schools defensively or offensively? Are we going to have an eye to the future or just be constantly defending ourselves against all the boogeymen that are out there?

  • Leonard: It's great that we have awareness of sustainability issues and indoor air quality. But what I think is really important is that people understand that these are things that you can measure and that these issues impact learning. What we need to do is take that same awareness and apply it to how kids learn, and realize that they all learn differently and that environment affects them all. We spend so much time on the symptoms, but really need to get back to focusing on the problems we're really trying to solve — which is improving the learning environment.

AS&U: One area that is of paramount importance to education institutions is security. How do you see this new environment and demand for improved security impacting the way schools will be used, designed, planned and function in the future?

  • Hendricks: I would like to see the whole discussion about safety and security in schools start with the culture and the size of our schools. If we simply start from the standpoint of lines of supervision and physical barriers and security devices, then we are influencing culture without being aware of it.

    There's a couple of ways that one can work with those issues on a more systemic level that I think are more productive. One is in raising awareness of the way that a community of people interacts — both the adults and the students within a school. If everyone knows each other, then a lot of these physical devices are not as necessary to deal with folks who might be intruding or improperly coming into the school environment.

    The question of school size is one that we haven't talked about yet, but by having a smaller-scale community to begin with, it's easier for everyone to know whether a person does or doesn't belong in the school. And if a kid is disturbed or dealing with too many issues at home and is experiencing difficulty, the community is more likely to know it. It's much less easy to be anonymous and fall through the cracks in a smaller-scale environment.

AS&U: How can design facilitate this type of environment and help create a more secure school? And how will school size play into future school design and planning?

  • Blurock: I don't think there is any question that the size of the learning community and the degree to which people know each other and take responsibility has as much effect on security as anything. But in terms of the actual design of schools, there's a fairly good body of knowledge that deals with the issue of almost invisibly creating secure environments.

    The degree to which people see each other and can't hide from each other increases security. The degree to which you can control the perimeter increases security. The degree to which you can prevent conflicts from happening, like people running into each other in the hallways, increases security. Interestingly, an awful lot of these things have positive educational effects. We've talked about sort of opening up the educational environment; this has a positive security effect. The key is keeping it at that level rather than letting the culture of fear make schools like prisons.

  • Dyck: Anonymity is the greatest single enemy of security.

  • Loeffelman: There's also the issue of getting teachers out of their office or classroom and being part of the community. There's a lot in terms of inferred supervision if they're out there and they can help with issues of security.

    There also is a question of transparency in schools. I am seeing more and more glass within a school. This has two advantages: it increases the ability for inferred supervision, and it provides the advantage of engaging students in providing a real sense of all of the learning opportunities and activities that are available within the school community.

AS&U: I'd like to look at the concept of functionality of the school building itself, and what can be done today to ensure schools are prepared for potential future uses?

  • Blurock: Function is what you want something to do, and we need to really spend more time investigating that rather than pulling schools out of drawer 24 and rebuilding them again, which happens all too often.

  • Loeffelman: If you look at the classic schools, like Crow Island and Cranbrook, they've adapted to change. Why is that? It's because they have a variety of spaces, they are flexible, they give signals of how the spaces are used, and there is no doubt that they also have very proactive programs as to teacher development and the delivery system. Every school success story that I am aware of is a true integration of educators, students, parents, the larger community — and sometimes the architect.

  • Leonard: The function and use of a school will clearly change over the life of that building. Going back to the open-plan model, the reason they were not good buildings and they failed is just that, they were not good buildings. Open-plan schools basically cut out the corridors, thereby cutting square footage to save money. And if square footage hadn't been cut, when you put those corridors back in, it could have worked better.

    With open-plan schools, you couldn't break down the mechanical system to serve a new layout. You put in fewer windows because you didn't need as much glass and light to penetrate these large spaces. But what that did is hindered breaking down spaces into smaller units. Those were flaws in a built environment, in a building, that made that building not function later on when it had to adapt to the change.

    So I think that we just have to know that change is going to happen and try to accommodate change. The key is to make basic good buildings; buildings that will last for 50 years, 100 years, and bring some stability and continuity to a community, and allow those buildings to change over time.

  • Dyck: In times of change, the word functionality and flexibility are almost the same. We'd also be remiss if we didn't include integration and community as being part of that functionality/flexibility, because I think the relationship of the school and community will become more and more integrated.

AS&U: Earlier it was mentioned that not only is the majority of our school stock already in place, but also that there still is much need for additional schools. I'd like to take a look at adaptive reuse and how communities can capitalize on alternative spaces to meet growing education facilities needs.

  • Blurock: Besides just the availability of space, I think working in an existing building creates some very interesting opportunities. Being in a highly constrained environment, such as an adaptive reuse — or even an unconstrained environment — stretches your imagination and makes you think of new things.

    We recently worked on a project where instead of being restrained by how little space there was, there was actually an abundance of space, which was a very interesting problem because we don't usually face that. It gave us the opportunity to think of things that we could do that we weren't doing before. It stretched the creative process and created some interesting and, I think, valuable learning environments.

    So the degree to which that can happen is one of those areas of experimentation where some real change can be explored, because you have to. Additionally, adaptive reuse often requires the schools to think anew about stuff.

  • Dyck: It's these little cubbies and so-called “wasted spaces” you can take advantage of in adaptive reuse that brings real interest and meaning to a learning setting. Some of these accidental things that happen in a reuse project can really and truly enhance the flexibility and utility of the actual learning experience.

  • Loeffelman: I think a good example is at Packer Collegiate Institute in Brooklyn, where a middle school was put inside Renwick Cathedral. You never would have designed it that way if you were starting from the ground up. I can't imagine suggesting to a client that you're going to build a gothic cathedral and then we're going to put a school in it.

    The spaces that resulted are really quite phenomenal. What will be really interesting is how the school, in terms of the teachers and administration, learn how to use that building as a teaching tool over the next 20 years. However, they have a long history of innovation in education and trying all sorts of different approaches. The overall planning process and result could not have happened if they had not come to the table with that kind of frame of reference.

    So here was a client who was a huge risk-taker and willing to consider putting something in as strange a place as that. It forces you to think about things differently so you come up with different models that then can be used for other locations.

  • Hendricks: Some of the most successful examples of adaptive reuse are the serendipitous buildings that were not intended to be schools. And it's almost the lack of fit between the original use and the new use that creates some of these wonderful in-between spaces that provide for the kinds of spaces that we are looking for, such as breakout areas to do other kinds of learning, small-group areas and large-group activity areas.

    The most difficult buildings to adapt to today's needs are traditional high schools from the '50s and '60s. The high schools from the '20s, for example, had more gracious corridors and were more generous in their total floor area, affording opportunities to create zones that are outside the traditional classroom where other kinds of activities can happen; other kinds of groups can get together and a greater variety of learning activities can happen.

    In the '50s and '60s, things were being done so quickly and so cost effectively that all of those kinds of generous spaces were no longer built and, therefore, those rigid 30 x 30 boxes are very difficult to adapt. One must essentially take 20 percent of the floor area and open up one in every handful of classrooms and to create the resource areas that allow other kinds of learning activities.

  • Leonard: One of the great things about adaptive reuse is that it forces you to address context. It also moves beyond the building and gets to site issues and buildings within communities. We actually can start to not break down and recreate communities, but build on what's been done before and help that maturation process of communities by working with what we've got.

  • Blurock: One of the themes that's gone through this whole discussion is the more input, the more constraints, the more things that we deal with, which really comes down to the process of design rather than the result of design, is really what's going to ultimately create the richness and the change and the things that schools will become rather than the things that they have been. And this is true whether you're talking about sustainability, community, adaptive reuse, functionality, all of these issues sort of touch on that.

    We should look for the unusual, look for the constraints, look for the things that make us think in ways that we haven't thought of before. Out of that is going to emerge the future.

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