Educational Design Takes New Directions

Event: 2008 Architecture: Designs for Living; Public Lecture Series: New Design Directions for Education
Location: Center for Architecture, 01.22.08
Speakers: Stephen Thomson, AIA, LEED AP — President, Thomson Architects; Paul Broches, FAIA, LEED AP — Partner, Mitchell/Giurgola Architects; Henry Myerberg, AIA — Principal, HMA2; Timothy Dufault, AIA, LEED AP — President, Cunningham Group; Chris McVoy — Senior Partner, Steven Holl Architects
Moderator: David M. Steiner — Dean, School of Education, Hunter College
Organizer: AIANY Architecture for Education Committee
Sponsors: Champion: Studio Daniel Libeskind; Supporters: Gensler; Humanscale; James McCullar & Associates; Friends: Costas Kondylis & Partners; Forest City Ratner Companies; Frank Williams & Associates; Hugo S. Subotovsky A.I.A. Architects; Mancini Duffy; Magnusson Architecture and Planning; Rawlings Architects; Ricci Greene Associates; Skidmore, Owings & Merrill; Syska Hennessy Group; Trespa North America; Universal Contracting Group

Educational Buildings

(l-r): P.S. 156/I.S. 392 (Mitchell/Giurgola Architects); Interdistrict Downtown School (Cunningham Group); School for Art & History, University of Iowa (Steven Holl Architects).

(l-r): ©Kevin Chu/KCJP, courtesy Mitchell/Giurgola Architects; photo by Peter Batianelli Kerze, courtesy Cunningham Group; ©Erid Dean, University of Iowa, courtesy Steven Holl Architects

Educational facilities should be built around how students learn, agreed a panel of professionals designing for academia. Principals of five architectural firms presented recent projects that illustrate varying approaches to design and programs for public and private educational facilities. The program is a sequel to last year’s School Buildings — The State of Affairs exhibition and symposium at the Center for Architecture that featured innovative designs from Zürich and other European cities (See Architects Return to School, by Carolyn Sponza, AIA, 02.23.07).

Projects should foster creativity and aim to improve academic performance, according to Stephen Thomson, AIA, LEED AP, president of Thomson Architects. In the CUNY School of Journalism, a new program in the former Tribune Building, placing print and broadcast journalism classroom areas next to each other created an open, interactive environment for learning. A media wall/screen that displays student work divides and organizes the space.

The Robin Hood Foundation Library Program for Public Schools, places learning spaces within older NYC schools and engages acclaimed architects — including HMA2 — to reshape the image of the library through graphics, color, and light. Libraries typically occupy 5% of schools’ real estate but serve 100% of the school community, pointed out HMA2 principal Henry Myerberg, AIA. Children learn best in a collaborative setting, and these libraries are not places to be quiet; rather, they are “playgrounds for learning.”

Paul Broches, FAIA, LEED AP, a partner at Mitchell/Giurgola Architects, believes there is a gap between teaching strategies and building standards for schools. P.S. 156/I.S. 392 Annenberg School of the Arts in Brooklyn, a K-9 public school for 1,500 students, seeks to bridge this gap while also engaging the community. Rather than place the playground at the back of the school, the designers located it prominantly in front near the street so the community can see and feel the energy of active children. The glazed lobby showcases a monumental stair and mural — part of the “Percent for Art” program where large scale development projects help fund and install public art — and lights the playground at night to create a safe space.

Flexibility is key to educational facilities, argues to Timothy Dufault, AIA, LEED AP, president of the Cunningham Group. The Interdistrict Downtown School (IDS), in Minneapolis, MN, is an example of a new educational approach. A “lab school,” IDS serves 650 kids in grades K-12. The school lacks traditional elements such as a music room, gym, and theater; instead, it has formed partnerships with downtown organizations such as the YMCA to meet those roles. A glass lobby serves as the “retail portion” of the building, placing learning on display. One lab has glass garage doors that roll up to create a stage/performance and gathering space.

The School for Art & History, University of Iowa, is a hybrid instrument for theory and practice. Chris McVoy, senior partner at Steven Holl Architects, described it as a “tough building” designed for the making of art. The school has an open center and open exterior. A library component is cantilevered above a lagoon, and a double-height reading room at the end provides space for reflection.

These schools, though different in program and purpose, show that good design can improve education. Flexible, stimulating environments increase students’ test scores and attitudes as well as foster creativity. This discussion was the first of 12 monthly programs by AIANY committees to explore current design directions that will form the “building blocks” for new growth envisioned by and as a response to PlaNYC. The next panel on 02.11.08 will focus on justice facilities including courthouses, police stations, and detention facilities.