couldn't get from the departmental approach to the others but we could
get from the teamed approach to all of the others."
"... place a marker board to
define the front, send in one adult and 30 kids, and more often than not the adult will assume some form of
control. Place the same people in an arcade game setting and the kids
will assume control."
skeptical should practitioners be? Why not ask:
how knowledgeable, how
inquisitive, how curious, how informed, how excited, or even should they
Part 4: Flexibility, Risks of Innovation, Impact of Environment on
of designing schools we should
step back and design community." Bruce Jilk
John B. Lyons: Currently the average age of our K-12 schools is 42 years.
We know that the tempo of changes to the learning environment is
increasing and that one of the hallmarks of excellent school design is
adaptability. Once constructed the design is frozen in time. How can we provide the flexibility necessary
without compromising the classroom environment?
Consistent with the question about the maintenance of Dutch schools we
need to invest our space, time and money in a way that goes beyond just
the immediate goals of any project. The way to do this is to step back
and look at the bigger picture. Typically, we build schools so the
physical elements will out live the functional. This functional
obsolescence can manifest itself in two ways. First, the learning
processes can change, and second, the need for a particular site for
learning may no longer be necessary (population shift). In the first case
architects have used a variety of design strategies, including movable
walls, nonbearing partitions, modular mechanical and electrical
systems, etc. In the second case the strategy has been to predict future use (housing, offices) and design with that in mind.
feel both of these approaches will have limited success and do not
really look at the bigger picture (they look only an alternative
possibility). Instead of designing schools (or offices or housing or retail, etc.) we
should step back and design community. This design strategy
should include not only these components but also their relationship to
each other .
This has not been done in modern times (except Louvain-la-Neuve),
so there are only historic models (Pompeii) or paper architecture ,
both of which are suspect. There are some ideas about how this
infrastructure might be designed in the writings of Habraken
and my work in Australia [see footnote 6]. However, until we get serious
about designing for community the flexibility/adaptability issue will
not go away.
"Flexibility and facilities is an
oxymoron." William DeJong
Flexibility and facilities is an
oxymoron and yet it is a question worth exploring further.
Bruce is correct when he says the physical elements will outlive the
functional. Forty-two years ago would have been the late 1950s.
In that era kindergarten was half day, there was no preschool, many
mentally and physically challenged children were institutionalized,
students went home for lunch, there were no computers, and there was
little discussion of team teaching, multiage or other current form of
delivering education. The future is likely to be the same.
the late 1980s we began addressing some of the evolving program
delivery issues at the high school level. In 1990, I recall a project in
Michigan where we had just finishing a traditional (departmentalized)
high school. It was six months prior to completion and the staff
was asking if we could make some changes to make this more of an
interdisciplinary high school. I told them they were $35 million late
with this discussion. In the next couple of days we started
planning a new high school in another Michigan school district and one
in Ohio. My first question was how do you want to be organized?
They both said departmentally. We put together four sets of
educational specifications based on the departmental, team teaching,
interdisciplinary and school-within-school concepts. We overlaid
them on each other and discovered we
couldn't get from the departmental approach to the others but we could
get from the teamed approach to all of the others. We used the
teamed approach for both buildings. One opened as a traditional
departmental high school and the other with a hybrid 9th
grade school within a school, teamed 10th and 11th grades and semester-long
interdisciplinary studies in the senior year. In this case
flexibility meant which approach left you with the most options.
The rest is history. This same story repeated itself with other
planners and architects where today, ten years later, this is a common
approach that is used.
back to a previous discussion, I don't really believe we have come up
with ideas on how we plan a school today using classrooms, as we
currently know them, to space concepts in which we no longer have
"classrooms." The answer may lie in more demountable
buildings or using more office planning concepts.
Q James LaPosta: The question that kept
occurring to me throughout the week, however, was "what if we are
wrong?" There is an unfortunate history of architectural
innovation in schools that failed utterly and I worry that we may be
headed down that well-intentioned road again. The idea of learning
spread throughout the community is appealing and well reasoned but, not
six blocks from my Hartford office is a failed school project,
an experiment in community-integrated learning from the 80s that was
recently replaced by a more traditional program and building. The costs
of failure are so high -- generations of children who only go through the
system once -- that we need certainty that what we do is right. How do we
integrate the lessons from the past with the best thinking that the
educational community can offer us?
Bruce Jilk: I have already addressed the idea that the
Amsterdam Watershed is about developing alternatives, not replacing one
approach with another. This is because "what if we are wrong"
if we keep things as they are (in the context of a knowledge society)
which is also a legitimate question. Integral to the question is the assumption
that "one size fits all." In this context the question applies
This idea of "all or nothing" is carried into
other aspects of the question. Ninety percent of what we learn is
learned outside of school. I hope parents do not turn their children
totally over to The System. A child's learning should never be dependent
upon a singular approach. An increasing number of parents do not send
their children through the system at all.
So how do we learn from the past? Time for our critical
thinking skills! There is no formula for this. First we need to separate
what is changing from what stays the same. How we can teach is changing ,
how children learn is not (short of drugs, brain implants and gene
modifications). Learning environments should enable learning, not
be a barrier to it. Therefore, the real question is, what, in the past,
was an environmental barrier to learning and what enabled learning? And
to further complicate things, this will vary with the mode of learning
at any one time. If that is not enough, what about the individual's
learning style or the appropriate group learning strategies? To learn from the past we would need to carefully document
establish criteria, weigh the criteria, apply it in an objective manner and draw out meaningful patterns to inform our current concerns.
A lot of work that no one cares to fund. On the more optimistic side, we should establish an ongoing post-occupancy evaluation (POE) process
for all projects as they happen and collect them (like a blood bank).
All this justifies a new EFL (Educational Facilities Laboratory) type
One last point on this
question. We know we learn by failure. Some people say we learn best
this way. Based on that fact our schools (The System) are not the
sole conduit to learning, we should not be fearful of taking risks to
improve our learning environments. The greatest risk is to take no risk
“What if we are wrong” is a serious consideration. Again Bruce
is correct in that there is a need to develop alternatives.
However, risks will be taken and mistakes will be made. One of the
perceived mistakes was the open space schools of the late 1960s and
1970s. Part of the problem with open space schools was not training
staff on how to effectively use the space. Part of
the problem was compounded in the 1970s when these buildings also
became windowless structures as a result of the energy crisis. In
Washington, D.C., the community and staff are demanding that over 20
open space schools be enclosed or replaced. Most of these schools
are well over 200,000 S.F. One is a K-8 building and is 348,000
square feet. This is a costly problem.
"...open space schools were too open and the
1950's facilities were too
enclosed." William DeJong
In a suburban Indianapolis school
district we were developing the educational specifications to guide the
renovation of four elementary schools. Two of the schools were
1950s double loaded corridor buildings. Two were open space
schools. The staff and parents in the double loaded corridor
schools wanted the space opened up. Those in the open space
building wanted them enclosed. What they were really saying was
that open space schools were too open and the 1950's facilities were too
enclosed. What they needed was a combination of the approaches
depending on the types of learning that were to occur.
There is far more risk in just
repeating the past than there is in attempting to determine the
future. By attempting to determine the future we may get it wrong,
but I believe if we just take the past, we already have it wrong.
Q Jose Freire da Silva: According to his
[Bruce's] experience, how important are built environments created by
architects? How and in what way are those environments part of the
models under consideration?
Bruce Jilk: This is variation on the Nature verses Nurture
argument. It is not an either/or condition. Both are fundamentally
important. The environment (and most people experience the man/woman made environment) has a significant
effect on our behavior. A basic example is the classroom. Take a roughly
square, 900 sq. ft. space with a 10 ft. ceiling, place a marker board to
define the front, send in one adult and 30 kids (who have never seen
each other), and more often than not the adult will assume some form of
control. Place the same people in an arcade game setting and the kids
will assume control. The environment influences behavior. Our
knowledge of this is very limited and needs more research .
Q Sarah Woodhead:
Your concept for high
schools presented in the early '90s was an exciting break-the-mold
approach to educating high school students. In that concept, the form
and the function are mutually responsive. However, in most case studies
derived from that early concept, there seems to be an overstatement of
the degree to which school as "center'" or institution can/should/will
cease to exist. The Webster's definition I like the best for
"institution" is "a significant practice, relationship or
organization in a society or culture." Please comment on the role
which "school" as a physical place in a community carries meaning within
Bruce Jilk: The physical
place of learning in a community should be symbolic of the location
(meaning) learning has in that community. If the meaning of learning in
a particular society is characterized as something special, unique,
controlled, elite, then it should physically reflect this (like the
Parthenon). If the meaning of learning is seen as integral to all
aspects in a society/organization then learning should have presence
The question implies that I promote the latter as if I know what's best.
Having worked in a variety of cultures (33 countries and most states), I
have learned not to advocate any preconception but to show the
This question does bring up
an important issue about community design. Although I can imagine a
group of people who would be committed to being a totally homogenized
society that would prefer to exist in a featureless setting, every
culture I've worked in has an order to it. This implies that their
communities have some form of order as well. Good community design uses
the tools of paths, nodes, edges, centers, etc. to deliver on this
expectation. Buildings that rise above the background and contribute to
the order are called civic art ,
Krier Brothers [see reference 14], Schools (learning centers) as well as
City Halls, Churches, Community Centers, Court Houses, Prisons
(Columbus, IN) can be a part of the civic art if that is consistent with
the beliefs and values of a society. However, it is wrong to assume
that this is the proper role for schools (or the other building types)
without due process of enquiry. One innovative alternative for schools is
the idea that they are dispersed (the Dutch broad school ).
Q Sarah Woodhead: Bruce, at best your ideas reflect a clear
and invigorating sense of what learning should be; at worst, there is
sometimes more than a hint of idealist tyranny that ignores many of the
subtle but important patterns of human behavior. You would do away with the
classroom and the school. It certainly is alluring and can work in
limited circumstances. Do you ever see a danger in promoting dramatic
change? Do you see your role as provocateur? How far should
school architects go in adopting your approaches? How skeptical should
Bruce Jilk: First,
one assumes I am promoting dramatic change. I do not promote anything
except that people think before they act when making decisions about
learning environments. To help them, I share some of the possibilities.
Second, do I see my self as provocateur? This is for others to decide. I
share ideas. Some people respond by giving those ideas thoughtful
consideration. Others, apparently, are provoked. Third, should school
architects adopt my approaches? School architects ought to be
knowledgeable in the numerous possibilities out there. This is also true
for school planners and educators. Knowledge is not painful. Finally,
how skeptical should practitioners be? Why not ask: how knowledgeable,
how inquisitive, how curious, how informed, how excited, or even, should
they be skeptical?