We all have indelible memories of our school experiences. For me, it was classrooms without walls in the Columbia, Maryland schools where I grew up in the late 1960s and 1970s. Not only could we see what was going on in other classes, but the gathering of learning spaces around the open library, the school’s village square, created a sort of theater where we each of us had a role. Many years later when my children starting attending our local public school in Brooklyn, the village square was the small courtyard where new parents gathered at drop-off and pick-up; we met people who became some of our closest friends – sharing the ups and downs of parenting, testing, sports, and raising children in the city.
Schools and universities are vital elements in the social fabric of our communities; they are the places where we come together, start friendships, learn from each other, and share ideas. At Loci, we care deeply about how this collective experience is affected by the schools we design and the process we use to create places where developing minds begin exploring the world beyond their homes and neighborhoods.
We listen very carefully during a project – good design is a result of a committed group of people who are constantly exploring and testing new concepts. The need to create flexible and adaptable learning environments reflects our desire to reach a deep understanding of a school’s mission, long-term strategic plan, and the resources available to support its vision. Sometimes our solutions are intuitive, other times they reveal themselves after much information gathering and research.
Whether it is a college campus master plan, a new green roof, or a building-wide renovation, projects can be a catalyst for enriching the learning process. For example, outdoor learning spaces introduce areas of study such as sustainability, urban farming, and ecology that directly enhance scientific research, environmental art, climate studies, and plant life. At The Carroll School in Brooklyn, we designed a 30,000 sf green roof classroom and asked teachers from each subject area to write a curriculum proposal on how they would use the roof as an instructional resource.
Cultural and environmental challenges will continue to inform the educational experience. Academic institutions are transitioning as social media and digital fluency become the key skill sets required to enter the work force. Most of them will be hybrids of face-to-face interactions and technology-focused course work, Internet-based research, and distance learning. At their core, however, they will continue to be vibrant social places – their health and viability depending on academic and design leadership that identifies the critical need for rich, engaging built environments that serve our communities now, and for the generations to come.