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Technology is reshaping education around the world. From the rapid proliferation of massive open online courses, or MOOCs, to the widespread use of devices that support a variety of “blended learning” models (part online, part bricks-and-mortar).




This design research study was conducted to evaluate the spatial implications of technology on learning spaces. Observations were conducted at 16 schools, which included six colleges and ten high schools. The colleges consisted of both public and private. High schools were public, private and charter. Interviews were with educators, administrators, technologists, and students at the primary, secondary, and higher education levels.

New designs fuel inspiration while responding to students’ changing habits

By Amy Bell, AIA, LEED Green Associate

WHAT INSPIRES YOU? Close your eyes and imagine the space where you feel the most inspired, most ambitious, or most cre- ative. What is it about that space that elicits those particular emotions and feelings?

   These are the questions designers seek to answer as they break away from traditional school designs in response to changes in teaching methods and shrinking school construction budgets. Through thoughtful design that engages the end user and stimulates creativity, today’s architects have the power to positively impact the educational system like never before.

   Those space attributes that make you feel most inspired should be emulated in the educational environment; natural lighting and bright colors are just part of the answer. Engendering a sense of ownership or connectedness to the space is equally vital and can lead to a more alert and productive student body.


Educational facilities that create a sense of student ownership have the power to further engage students. At Auburn High School’s Cafeteria and Kitchen Renovation Project in Auburn, Alabama, designers set aside a large area of architectural mill- work to allow students to display artwork. In turn, students take pride in the space.

   Todd Freeman, Auburn High School’s executive director of school operations and services at the time of construction, pro- posed the concept: “We wanted to find a way to connect the kids to the cafeteria. The school’s art program is very strong and we wanted to showcase that.”

   Students also constructed displays in an existing campus building to showcase work by the school’s photography, graphic arts, and drawing classes.

   In Georgiana, Alabama, the K-12 Butler County Magnet School uses large flat-panel TV monitors for announcements, as well as student and group recognition. The school is in a rural community, but places an emphasis on technology and new teaching methods throughout its design with a variety of teaching and independent study areas. Other specialty areas include a circular Internet café for high school students and meeting spaces at the end of each classroom wing where students and teachers can gather in smaller groups or display special creative projects.

   Dr. Mike Looney, superintendent of the Butler County School District during the school’s construction, is now adopting simi- lar ideals in his current position as superintendent of schools for Williamson County School District in Tennessee. A new K-8 complex, currently in design, is scheduled to open there in August 2015.

   “The more we imbed relevance in the school environment, the more likely students will be successful,” says Looney. Today’s learners need space to collaborate, meet, and innovate, so every space should be designed to build upon this theme.”

   Looney credits the school board for its encouragement of stu- dent, teacher, and community ownership when developing new facilities. “Once construction of a new school is approved, the school’s principal actively engages the community in a variety of ways, through PTO and support groups,” says Looney. “The stu- dents and parents assist in choosing the mascot, school colors, and even the name of the new school.”


Butler county Magnet School

Auburn High School

Auburn High School

   In another example of student ownership, Alabama State University’s new Houston Markham Jr. Football Complex fea- tures a giant mural in an entrance passageway with photos of previous players drafted by the NFL. A large seating area, natural lighting, and vibrant colors in the same area allows players to treat the passageway as a personalized communal area.

   Speaking at an April 9, 2013, Security Summit in Atlanta, Michael Dorn of School Safety Partners asserted that a more secure environment is another byproduct of students claiming their space. Since students and teachers are more alert and aware when working in spaces where they have ownership, natural surveillance can reduce the reliance on more conventional secu- rity surveillance systems. “Security cameras can help make your school safer in some situations, but there is not a camera system in the world that has anywhere near the ability to make your school as safe as each of you,” Dorn remarked.


Today, teachers are moving out of the classroom and into collab- orative spaces, as students rely more heavily on wireless technol- ogy such as tablets and laptops. In turn, architects are making these spaces more engaging through the use of natural light and bright colors. Natural lighting can be enhanced through sky- lights and light shelves, or simply by aligning corridor spaces

   to maximize daylight. While these collective spaces often add square footage and cost to a school’s design, the result is an edu- cational setting that is more engaging and stimulating, leading to a different but no less important sense of ownership.

   At Trinity Presbyterian School in Montgomery, Alabama, 25-plus eager students line up every morning at the doors to the school’s new K-6 library. “It’s a bright space with great lighting; the entire back wall is floor-to-ceiling windows,” says school librarian Keeli Osmer. “The front wall, which also has floor-to-ceiling windows, looks out over the athletic complex.”

Trinity Presbyterian School

Trinity Presbyterian School

   The library is an inviting space featuring modular furniture and chairs arranged in different shapes. “It’s great for setting up individualized learning stations for different abilities and age groups,” says Osmer. An adjoining resource room has 25 com- puters for use by students and faculty, and is completely glassed in, allowing Osmer to see everything from her desk. According to research by William Nagy, Richard Anderson, and Patricia Herman published in the American Educational Research Journal, if a child begins reading 20 minutes a day while in kindergarten, he or she is more likely to score in the 90th percentile on standardized tests by 6th grade.

   “I’m certain that the new library has had a positive impact on our reading scores,” says Osmer, adding that the school’s old library was a dark, drab space with small windows. “Schools are coming around to the idea that educational environments should be more inviting. [When] you make [the space] a little more exciting and engaging, the students are naturally going to be more receptive to learning.”


In a way, everyone in a school system is a designer. Administrators design their school curriculum, teachers design their lesson plans, and students design their future goals. In that same vein, early faculty and student involvement in the design process of any school project can foster a feeling of ownership, and the end result will be a better marriage between aesthetics and functionality.

   While getting input from every end user is impractical, sur- veys and focus groups comprised of a select group of students and faculty could help designers gain key insights. On occasion, end users who are not engaged in the design process are dis- satisfied with the end result, whether in relation to functionality, teachability, or stimulation. Many of these issues can be avoided by simply organizing a small focus group or through some system of anonymous feedback. School administrators should therefore be careful to select a designer who seeks to engage the end users and is skilled at extracting information.

   These are exciting times for educational design. Designers, with the assistance of administrators, faculty, and students, have the potential to affect education in a quantifiable way by design- ing components into facilities that encourage ownership and meet the changing needs of students and faculty. 



Driving Value in Tech-Rich Spaces


Advances in information technology enhance,  diversify today’s learning environments

By Peter C. Lippman, Associate AIA, REFP, 
with Janine Betz

Building technologies have shaped the environments in which we live, play, work, and learn, and information technology (IT) continues to affect our relationships within these spaces. More specifically, IT is changing the educational landscape by influencing policy regarding how teaching and learning take place.

IT augments the learning process because it grants students immediate access to information, anytime and anywhere. This technology can be used to engage students directly to take risks, work independently and collaboratively, and develop problem-solving skills. It also personalizes the learning experience so that each student is continually evaluated as he or she works through specific tasks, leading to a positive and empowering learning experience. According to research by the Projects for Environmental Health Knowledge and Action (PEHKA), technology grounds students within a space, fully engaging them in specific tasks. As a result, students develop creative, critical thinking, and communication skills, making IT a potential conduit for engaging the entire learning community.


Fig 5 MarineMagnet_03_int group instr.jpg
Design of the Marine Science Magnet High School, Groton, CT, designed by JCJ Architecture, supports the different ways students work and solve problems.

Photo: Robert Benson Photography

Integrated Learning Environments

To sustain these engagements and optimize the learning experience, technology tools must be practical and thoughtfully integrated within the design of the space. The social environment—students, teachers, staff, and community members—is shaping and being shaped by the physical environment. Simultaneously, the physical environment—spatial design along with IT—is influencing and being influenced by the social environment, making it a vehicle for change that encourages students to explore the world in which they live. These explorations encourage the student to master skills as he or she develops meaning and personal identity while working independently and with others on the tasks at hand.

The spatial design of the learning environment should include activity settings that allow students to interact with their peers and teachers and explore with low levels of adult guidance, as noted in Roland Tharp and Ronald Gallimore’s book Rousing Minds to Life: Teaching, Learning, and Schooling in Social Context. These activity settings are defined learning zones and can be a grand staircase, soft seating areas, or booths with built-in tables and chairs within interstitial spaces between classrooms, to name a few. In these settings, students discover how to maneuver the spaces themselves as well as how to negotiate the spaces with others, according to PEHKA.


Linking Technology with Spatial Design

By viewing the student and the learning environment as active, the spatial design must be planned to provide activity settings where students are comfortable, can stay on task, and can choose to work cooperatively or work independently.

Instead of being restrictive, classrooms should be re-examined as flexible, fluid, and flowing spaces where opportunities abound and students come together and work through intellectual endeavors. They also should be adaptable, layered with a variety of activity settings that encourage individual/independent learning, one-on-one learning, and small and large group meetings. This design approach reflects the planning of early childhood and kindergarten spaces, where a variety of settings are created that expand and contract as needed to support the evolution of the task at hand—depicted in the rendering above, right-hand side.


Creating Sustainable Spaces

In order to support a sustainable environment, IT must be well suited to the anticipated learning activities before it is implemented. In this re-imagined layered classroom, a combination of IT might be used, including both wired and wireless systems. The space should be equipped with features that support the different ways that individuals and groups acquire knowledge, as well as the teaching pedagogy, such as:

• Fixed tables with chairs and high countertops with stools where laptops, tablets, or handheld devices are used to support independent learning and one-on-one work.

• Fixed or unfixed soft seating around fixed tables with LCD screens support small social groupings of four or five students.

• Fixed round tables with docking ports for laptop computers support social groupings of six to eight students spaced approximately 5 feet apart.

• Semi-fixed rectangular tables (two) or D-shaped tables with integrated digital screens provide flexibility and mobility for groups of four to six. 
   The D-shaped table is a flattened hyperbolic shape that offers a balance between round table discussions with improved viewing positions in relation to the shared screen. A gap between the screen and the table allows an individual to stand at the screen and use the touch overlay.

• Podiums may be located in these spaces, but must support personal interactions and not become physical barriers between students and facilitators, according to PEHKA. Their location in the space must be temporary and adaptable.

No matter the design approach, learning environments must be provided with additional focal points to receive and display work. At minimum, each work area should include vertical writing surfaces, which help keep educators from depending too heavily on the technology in the event the technology fails. They also move the student from an isolated learning environment to a collaborative one where they can develop ideas in relationship with others and see that those ideas are valued.


Learning Beyond the Classroom

Spaces that flow do not necessarily have to be void of walls. Regrettably, the design community has embraced this notion as a solution for creating flowing, fluid, and flexible spaces, rather than understanding that all spaces need to be programmed and understood in order to be optimized. To enhance learning opportunities beyond classrooms/learning studios, spaces must be programmed and planned to encourage students to stay on task wherever they are and also must accommodate the different ways individuals acquire knowledge, according to PEHKA. Look into incorporating these features:

Breakout niches: These are less private and more open areas, such as recesses and alcoves, that offer more independent learning activities on laptops and other handheld devices.

Breakout hollows: These are more private and semi-enclosed settings for one to three people, such as openings in walls along the corridors outside classrooms within the instructional spaces in public areas.

Breakout rooms: These are private, enclosed activity settings for one to six people that are intended for staff, parent, and/or student meetings and may be equipped with moveable or fixed furniture. Wireless and hard-wired technologies, along with projectors with pull-down screens and/or LCD screens, may be considered for these spaces.

Breakout nodes: These spaces encourage a range of organized and spontaneous interchanges and allow independent, one-on-one, and small and large group transactions to occur simultaneously. They should be outfitted with wired and wireless technologies to accommodate individual and instructional uses.


Spaces that Stimulate

Learning environments must be stimulating, flexible spaces that offer a variety of settings with which students can actively engage and which they can shape in accordance with their learning needs, their abilities, and what they need to learn. Technology-rich learning environments may contribute to the quality of the spaces; however, they require a substantial financial investment associated with the use of information technology—for example, the initial purchase, ongoing maintenance of hardware and digital curricula, and professional development of staff, etc.

In order for these settings to provide learning opportunities regardless of respective financial situations, they must take on other dimensions that are not technology driven. The learning environment must be understood as forever evolving and as a vehicle that carries and reinforces the values, mission, and vision of the learning environment. The building itself should assist in the learning process, and the things to be learned should allow the development of a culture of place. While IT can assist in this process, it should not be seen as its defining component.

As we consider design of the learning environment for the next decade and beyond, we must begin by providing students with a sense of place. To inspire future learning spaces, reflect on the students of today—where they learn most effectively, how they prefer to learn, what tools they need to acquire knowledge—and explore a balanced approach to learning that includes time for creativity and development.


Fig. 6 Stormanston HIgh School Perth Australia, EIW Architects.jpg
Planning of Stormanston High School, Perth, Australia, designed by EIW Architects, was similar to that of early learning centers to accommodate a variety of learning styles.
Photo: EIW Architects


Peter C. Lippman, Associate AIA, REFP, is an associate director at EIW Architects in Perth, Australia, and the author of Evidence Based Design of Elementary and Secondary Schools: A Responsive Approach to Creating Learning Environments. Reach him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Janine Betz is an architectural graduate at EIW Architects who is involved in the design and facilitation of numerous learning environments in Western Australia. She works with Peter Lippman on the development of responsive design strategies for learning environments.


Correction: On page 18 of the printed version of this story, the University of Melbourne learning space pictured was designed by Bloomquist & Wark Architects with Peter Jamieson.



Innovative strategies support design best practices

By John R. Dale, FAIA, LEED AP

Evidence-based research suggests that students learn better in settings with balanced natural light. At various moments in the history of architecture, schools have been designed systematically as well-balanced machines for teaching and learning. The results have been elegant, and at times dramatic, but also factory-like.

In the case of Steven Wise Temple’s David Saperstein Middle School in Los Angeles, challenging site constraints required a more nuanced, varied response. By responding more specifically to exceptional conditions, the design team implemented strategies that resulted in balanced daylighting throughout the new school.

Site Challenges

The 240-student middle school sits on a rugged shelf, literally carved out of an unstable hillside above the Sepulveda Tunnel. Situated on the scenic Mulholland corridor, all the roofs of the building must sit below the street to protect views and adhere to strict sightline restrictions. Also challenging is the fact that the sloping site is extremely long and narrow, with a steep hillside to the east and a precipitous drop with maximum sun exposure to the west. All the classrooms essentially must face east and west rather than a more ideal north-south orientation.

The design solution takes the form of two parallel, single-loaded classroom buildings flanking a series of linear outdoor courtyards that act as a village street. Each classroom and most support spaces therefore have the potential for natural cross ventilation and daylight from at least two directions.

Architects handled natural light and fenestration in a variety of ways, dependin xt/javascript"> g on orientation, purpose, and scale of space. Each pair of classrooms shares a small study room with ample glazing interconnecting all three spaces. The study room is top lit with a shallow light scoop or clerestory. The classrooms have lower view windows with deep overhangs facing the inner street; the overhangs also act as light shelves to bounce light into sloping clerestories above. The opposite walls also have windows with views to the landscape beyond. As a result, each of the 11 main classrooms has at least three distinct sources for balanced, glare-free natural light.

Varied Solutions

With varying exposures, different spaces require different window solutions, resulting in a lively and varied environment. For example, the west-facing classrooms, with potentially harsh and hard-to-control exposures, have projecting, angled bay windows that orient the glazed areas to the north, away from the raking horizontal light.

Relying on exterior circulation, the school’s buildings are interconnected with a series of breezeways and projecting canopies, resulting in a highly modulated space with conditions ranging between bright sunlight and deep shadows. To avoid an overly abrupt transition and to add further animation to the architecture, the overhangs are punctuated with deep multiple north-south light wells capped with skylights. The skylights have been configured to bring controlled but animated natural light into the covered spaces below.

The resulting spaces, both functional and inviting during the day, have the added benefit of proving engaging and animated spaces at night as the varied patterns of windows and skylights add borrowed light to the outdoor plazas and courts.

John R. Dale, FAIA, LEED AP, is principal and education studio leader for Harley Ellis Devereaux, Los Angeles. Reach him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..



Green Learning Tools

How energy-efficient initiatives can transform 
new and existing buildings into meaningful educational and community spaces

By Peter Gisolfi, AIA, ASLA, LEED AP




It’s not enough to just “be green.” Many of the new facilities being built across the country incorporate sustainability features, but green initiatives also must be met with faculty, students, staff, and communities that understand these measures and see that they apply to the entire built environment. Educational institutions that take the lead in green design can serve as examples of how these practices can be incorporated into our everyday lives.


Within this overarching issue are two dilemmas. First, most of the focus on green buildings has been on new green buildings. When a university completes a new green building, its press office will often boast how little energy is consumed per square foot—rarely is energy consumption per person mentioned. The distinction is important because, in most instances, the university simply has added another structure to its existing stock of campus buildings. It has not replaced, torn down, or renovated an old building. In truth, the net effect on the overall campus is that the institution is using more energy per person, not less.






The second dilemma has to do with “building hibernation.” Used in this context, hibernation refers to the time a building is not occupied. There are 168 hours in every week and, in most climates, campus buildings need to be heated (or sometimes cooled) for most of those 168 hours. But a typical school building is used less than 25 percent of the time it is available—only 40 hours or fewer per week, and only 30 or 40 weeks per year. How can educational facilities legitimately brag about energy savings when energy is being consumed while the building is unoccupied, essentially idle, more than 75 percent of the time?


There are relatively simple answers to address these two dilemmas. Rather than focusing on new construction, most of our green building efforts should address how we transform and retrofit existing buildings to make them as energy efficient as possible. Annually in the United States, new buildings constitute only 1 to 2 percent of the total existing space in our academic institutions. Clearly, we are not going to solve our energy problems by focusing on new buildings alone. The issue of building hibernation is more complicated. Of course, we could schedule classes 80 to 120 hours a week, but that likely would be met with resistance from faculty and students.


Making green buildings readily understandable to their occupants should be a key goal. Green, sustainable, and net-zero buildings are best understood when they become part of everyday living and are not just abstract ideas. Educational facilities are great places for occupants to explore and digest how sustainable techniques can be successfully used and measured.


Here are six ways students can learn about sustainable environments:



1. Monitor energy consumption.


If we want to brag about our energy-saving accomplishments, we have to measure them. One approach to measuring is called “submetering.” This involves wiring a building so energy consumption can be calculated in smaller units of space or categories of use, rather than in the whole building. At the Trevor Day School in New York City, each classroom floor in this 14-story building will have its own electric meter. The meters will record the use of electricity for lighting, plug loads, heating, and cooling. Submetering leads to a better understanding of how and at what rate energy is being consumed.


Another aspect of monitoring energy consumption is recordkeeping. Each submeter can be attached to software that prints out records of consumption in readily manageable units. This idea enables students to monitor and compare records.


The first two strategies lead to a third, which is the most important: actual participation in saving energy. At Trevor Day School, submetering seven classroom floors—all identical in size—sets up competition among the occupants to see which grades can use their floors in the most energy-efficient manner. At the same time, students can be learning about the science behind energy conservation.



2. Use obvious, observable, energy-conserving strategies.


Another teaching/learning technique is to construct buildings so that strategies for energy conservation are obvious to the inhabitants and visitors. Operable window shades or blinds, either inside or outside of the glass, are easy to understand and can reduce heat gain. Solar shading devices can minimize sun penetration in the summer and maximize it in the winter.


At the Health Professions and Student Services building at North Shore Community College in Danvers, MA, computer-simulated models were employed to help design the sunshades and light shelves on the south façade of the building. These models, which could be observed and studied by students, calculated the sun’s exact path and angles so that a system could be designed to take best advantage of natural daylight throughout the 58,000-square-foot building.


Many passive solar strategies can be obvious to building users. For example, at the new Kathleen Allen Lower School at the Hackley School in Tarrytown, NY, the classrooms face predominantly north, while the single-loaded corridor that serves them faces predominantly south. The corridor is filled with bright sunshine year-round, while the classrooms benefit from even northern light. The corridor floor, a concrete slab covered with porcelain tiles, absorbs energy from the sun and radiates this energy back to the occupants as heat during the winter.


Other energy-saving practices that are growing in popularity include air-flow strategies to control temperature, lighting controls with occupancy and daylighting sensors, photovoltaic solar collectors, wind turbines, and green roofs, all of which can be used as learning tools for students.



3. Use the building and site as part of the school curriculum.


Lady Bird Johnson Middle School produces as much energy as it uses because of wind turbines, photovoltaic panels, geothermal heating and cooling, and other green technologies and building techniques, according to information released by the institution. The school is a three-dimensional learning space where students throughout the district can learn from “practical, hands-on experiences. Issues such as geothermal science, rainwater collection, solar panel usage, and wind turbine efficiency will help students learn responsibility for energy conservation.”


The Hackley School in Tarrytown, NY, has integrated its recently completed Goodhue Memorial Hall into its Upper School curriculum. Goodhue Memorial, a 1903 building that was nearly destroyed by fire, has been completely reconstructed and expanded. Through a series of sustainable strategies, the project received LEED Gold certification.


Each year since its completion, I have been invited to lecture to the junior year physics classes about the complex operation of the school’s energy-conserving, closed-loop geothermal system. The students respond positively to the statistics that demonstrate the building’s sustainable benefits: The building envelope reduces energy loss through the skin by 70 percent; the geothermal system is 40 percent more efficient than the original conventional system; and the building, which is more than double its original size, uses only 20 percent of the energy required to operate the original building.



4. Treat your building as a science museum.


The beauty of science exhibits is that they explain relatively complex ideas in simple terms. To explain energy conservation, the Lady Bird Johnson Middle School partnered with the Perot Museum of Nature & Science in Dallas to create hands-on exhibits in the main corridor of the school. Touring the installations, students can learn about wind power, rainwater collection, solar panels, and environmental stewardship.


At the new Darien Library, which is heated and cooled by an open-loop geothermal system, flat-screen monitors in the most public areas of the building explain its energy-conserving features. The advantage of flat screen monitors is that messages can be updated on a regular basis.



5. Make the building an example for the wider community.


Today, many people are interested in energy conservation and efficiency. As we employ more visible green building strategies—geothermal systems, wind turbines, photovoltaic panels, careful siting in relation to the sun—and as people begin to learn how well they function, these technologies will become even more widely accepted. In the Village of Bronxville, NY, we renovated the Village Hall, originally constructed in 1942. It is now heated and cooled by a closed-loop geothermal system fed by 20 wells.



6. Make building hibernation understandable.


Techniques for successful building hibernation are not easily understood, particularly in cold climates. When a building is not used constantly, measures need to be employed to maintain stable interior temperatures. The essential elements for success are a well-insulated exterior envelope, and an interior construction system with a high degree of thermal inertia. While interior comfort and stable temperatures are perceptible to a building’s occupants, techniques such as the amount of insulation and thermal inertia are difficult to detect.


An excellent example of successful hibernation is Goodhue Memorial Hall at the Hackley School. The R-value (i.e., the measure of thermal resistance) of the newly reconstructed exterior walls is a high R-35, and the high thermal mass of the interior construction prevents temperatures from changing rapidly. Thus, when the thermostat’s setback feature is employed at night and over weekends, the interior temperature in the building hardly changes. In fact, the main heating load in Goodhue comes from the code-required ventilation air system, which operates only when the building is occupied—approximately 40 hours a week.





The Green Transformation


Creating energy-conserving educational facilities that are truly understandable to their occupants and the wider community is an essential challenge we must address. When taxpayers and donors appreciate what is being accomplished in the institutions they support, similar techniques will be employed in other settings


For the foreseeable future, we will still face the issues of transforming existing buildings into sustainable structures and creating successful hibernation scenarios for underutilized buildings. Hibernation is the more subtle, more difficult condition to observe and monitor. Transformation of existing buildings must be embraced, at least as enthusiastically as new construction, since it is the major energy-conserving task of this nation. While it is more challenging than constructing new green buildings, it is certainly worth the effort.


Peter Gisolfi, AIA, ASLA, LEED AP, is a founding partner of Peter Gisolfi Associates, Architects and Landscape Architects, LLP, and author of Finding the Place of Architecture in the Landscape. Reach him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..





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