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What we see too often are increasingly narrow and focused studies accomplished by specialists working in isolation.  This is the blessing and the curse of the information age.

Programming and Design of Schools Within the Context of Community

By Anne Taylor, Ph.D., Hon. AIA
Professor and Director of The Institute for Environmental Education, University of New Mexico

Adapted from a paper given at the Stein Institute
Lecture Series, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York
. An earlier version of this paper was presented as part of the "Stein Lecture Series: Policy, Planning and Design for a 21st Century Public Education System", May 2000.

Taylor employs the antecedent process of architectural programming to translate the best of educational practice into design criteria for architects and communities

Billions of dollars are being spent each year to retrofit, renovate, and build schools in America, and yet these “new” designs are based on outmoded concepts, ignore vital ecological principles, and fail to include client input.  All stakeholders, from students to community, must be involved in the programming and design of learning environments.  Professor Anne Taylor, Ph.D., Hon. AIA, employs the antecedent process of architectural programming to translate the best of educational practice into design criteria for architects and communities who wish to build innovative learning centers that reflect community excellence.  Taylor discusses the School Zone model for participatory planning, which establishes a system for learning across student developmental needs of the body, mind, and spirit;  integrated subject matter disciplines; and learning processes.  This educational system then is linked to the design of the built, natural, and cultural environment so that the resultant architecture can act as a three-dimensional textbook.  A survey of 16 case studies reveals basic patterns for reform in school curriculum and facilities design:  (a)  democratic, broad-based community input into the programming and design process changes the configuration and design of learning environments and encourages co-location of facilities  (b)  as community members develop design literacy for intelligent participation in the design process, they appreciate the complexity and the benefits of restructuring schools and facilities  (c)  successful communities cultivate the image of young people as powerful learners, and  (d)  architectural planning and design techniques offer a model or map for communities to use while developing, researching, constructing, and evaluating joint school and community ventures. 

"In order to live well, we must truly “inhabit” a place, rather than merely taking up temporary residence."  David Orr

The Need for Pragmatic Synthesis 
     I have been fortunate to work with both children and adults for forty-plus years in the combined fields of education, design, and architecture and planning.  David Orr has described the lure of this particular academic territory in his essays linking place and pedagogy  (Orr, 1992).  In order to live well, we must truly “inhabit” a place, rather than merely taking up temporary residence.  We can know and respect a place--and ourselves--only through deep investigation and integrated thinking.  As I look back on the schools I have visited, it seems to me that I have begun thinking more globally, while at the same time acting in an increasingly site-specific or local way, to imbue our schools with form, function, and meaning at the individual and the community level.  
     Over the years my work has evolved into that of a programmer, or, more precisely, a facilitator of the program.  By that I mean I try to bridge the gap between what the primary clients (the students) need and what the architects design, before any designing takes place.  The antecedent process of architectural programming, instead of planning based on predetermined square footage needs as part of an educational specification, includes students and community input throughout the planning process, from setting goals and collecting data to determining needs and identifying the problem to be solved.  When such participatory planning or programming happens, exciting new issues emerge concerning co-location of school activity settings for child care, health care, museums, art galleries, science labs, community cultural centers, studios instead of classrooms, and outdoor  “learning landscapes”  instead of barren playgrounds.   
      In this paper, I will offer reflections on implementing architectural programming and design ideas in the real world setting of schools.  I hope to motivate and inspire others to  “get out there”  and do something with the research that is being generated in massive amounts every day.  To my view, what is lacking in the literature is more a matter of synthesis than of a topical nature.  What we see too often are increasingly narrow and focused studies accomplished by specialists working in isolation.  This is the blessing and the curse of the information age.  The research might be fascinating and well-meaning, but it doesn’t trickle down to classroom practice, or to architects who are looking for futuristic ideas.  What we need is a system for assembling these theories into a coherent and practical tool for restructuring education and educational facilities within the context of community.

Developing Programming and Design Capability
     Communities seeking to design schools for the future must think in an integrated manner to join the goals of education to those of architectural design.  Citizens must learn to analyze the best of educational practice and help translate that thinking into learning spaces or environments.  Architects must move beyond predetermined square footage requirements and minimum building codes to examine developmental rights  (across body, mind and spirit), subject matter disciplines, and the instructional delivery system as criteria for design.  Schools must become true learning centers, three-dimensional textbooks celebrating the richness of the built, natural, and cultural environment.  Leaders must encourage communication between all parties so that goals can be set and varying groups within a community are operating with one mind to produce unified results.  Ideally, all communities should develop and implement high quality design and programming capabilities before one more school is built or one more curriculum adopted.
     There is a sense of urgency to these tasks.  School construction is big business and enrollment is growing  (Council for Educational Facility Planning [CEFPI], 2000).  CEFPI, whose mission is to promote the development of educational facilities that provide the best possible learning environments, claims that $120 billion is needed for facilities to address health and safety issues alone.  Enrollment is at a record 52.2 million K - 12 students, and each computer added to a classroom displaces 1. 5 students (CEFPI, 2000).  Estimates are that $210 billion will be needed in America alone to retrofit and build much needed schools in both urban and rural areas.  Districts will need to build 15 billion dollars’ worth of schools each year as the enrollment increases by 1.6 million students in the next eight years (Pierce, 1999).  This is an intensely active time in school construction, and yet schools are built or renovated every day without input from students.  Architects design monuments to themselves instead of places to support learning and curriculum.  Educators occupy environments and use equipment they don’t fully understand and can’t exploit to the fullest.  Children learn to tune out the environment rather than to develop awareness and a sense of belonging.  Now is the time for foresight, inclusion, and planning, not ten years from now. 
     Facilities needs are not the only concern.  Many districts are facing increased demand for accountability, standardized measurement, and voucher programs and other over-simplified solutions to complex educational issues.  Schools and communities must communicate with increasing precision and depth in order to meet these challenges.  Gregory J. Cizek, in a recent Phi Delta Kappan article, suggests that educators and educational researchers need to break away from the crisis-reaction approach to education policy, and should focus instead on anticipation of future challenges and innovation (Cizek, 1999).  Cizek suggests that policy solutions should take into account the complexities of
the educational process, attitudes toward, and support for, education in the community as well as from parents, and motivation of students.  Closely linked to the crisis mentality is the pendulum effect whereby educational reforms swing from one extreme to the other, effectively outlined by Jeanette Throne in her article entitled,  “Living with the Pendulum:  The Complex World of Teaching”  (Throne, 1994).  As Throne states, either/or choices limit teacher effectiveness by preventing teachers and students from developing a more comprehensive view.  Both Cizek and Throne have recognized that due to the complex nature of education, successfully addressing reform in schools means seeking balance and integrating multiple viewpoints.  In restructuring learning environments, planners need to develop methods for identifying complex issues and must use design processes to synthesize approaches rather than focusing on dichotomies.
     Restructuring schools does not mean pasting something on the top of existing curriculum or facilities  (Orr, 1992, pp. 129, 138).  As is illustrated in the several case studies cited later in this paper, restructuring means using research to design new patterns that function well and make use of what schools do best.  What do schools do best?  What are they designed for?  They develop work that intellectually engages students according to the most compelling research available in order that those students may become well educated in the eyes of society (Schlechty, 1997).
     The key implication behind this statement is that learning must be authentic.  Students are telling us in ever increasing numbers,  “Make our education real!”  (Concordia, Inc. & Anne Taylor Associates, 1996).  Learning must be relevant to students and to the life students will lead after graduation as citizens of a community.  Design education answers the dual requirement that student work be intellectually engaging as well as useful to society.  Not only does the design process require higher level thinking skills through interdisciplinarity, but design products must function or perform for people in the real world.  

The design process outlined below has real world value:

  • Identify the problem

  • Collect and analyze data

  • Determine performance criteria

  • Generate alternative solutions, build prototypes

  • Evaluate and select appropriate solutions

  • Implement solutions

  • Evaluate outcomes  (Davis, Hawley, McMullan & Silka, 1997).

      Design education closes the gap between thinking and doing, while at the same time increasing the connections between schools and society.  Communities and students benefit when the design process becomes a part of curriculum, when architectural programming needs are expressed in terms of student needs, and when students are involved in facilities planning and design.

The Scope of this Article
To provide discussion of the above issues, this article first will review an integrated model for addressing school design and curriculum, the School Zone design process.   It will survey several recent innovative projects or case studies which show how implementing change at the school and community level works and what is happening right now in the areas of planning, design and school initiatives.  These cases have been selected to illustrate the philosophical framework behind the School Zone model:

  • All children can learn.

  • The community must cultivate the image of children as strong and powerful 
    thinkers (Edwards, Forman & Gandini, 1996) 

  • Students learn from the context of the built, natural and cultural environment.

  • The environment is used as a three-dimensional textbook for teaching concepts
    (content) across all disciplines.

  • Children learn by constructing their own knowledge through a variety of learning processes across body, mind and spirit.

  • Spaces for learning should support hands-on exploration by functioning as studios rather than as traditional classrooms; and furniture and equipment systems must be modular, flexible, deployable, and easily manipulated by students.

  • Designing is a creative problem-solving process involving teamwork and collaboration.

  • Understanding integrated systems thinking and the Principles of Ecology is essential for all learners in today’s world.  This is described by David Orr as “education for sustainability”  (1992, p. 137).

     Following the case studies, this article examines four key issues or patterns extrapolated from the studies to show how involving children in the design process, both as a pedagogical model for learning and in the actual design of their own schools, has implications for the role schools play in the community.  Patterns for reform using design criteria from multiple sources are outlined so that communities may take action to build and evaluate programs that synthesize community and educational needs.  Research questions based on the patterns observed in the case studies are offered for further study.  The focus in posing these suggestions and questions will continue to be on pragmatic implementation.  Because implementation of the participatory process with respect to school design is in the early stages, most of the case studies have not been evaluated over the long term and can only be used to suggest evaluation procedures which arise naturally out of the projects themselves.  Fortunately for future researchers, it is inherent in the structure of design education that evaluation is embedded in the process (Davis, et al., 1997).  Design projects are relatively visible, accessible, and easily documented, and in some ways are more readily measured than curriculum based on abstractions.  Finally, at the conclusion of this paper, an appendix offers additional topics for research.     

The School Zone Institute Design Process:
A Model for Cooperative Endeavors
Professor Anne Taylor and architect George Vlastos founded the School Zone Institute in order to combine the curricular and child development goals of education with the design elements of architecture.  The prime focus of the School Zone model is that the physical setting of the learning environment does make a difference in, and directly contributes to, a child’s behavior and learning.  The model expresses a system for learning:  the context for learning, the content to be learned, and learning processes  (see Table 1, below, for an overview).  After these educational factors are identified and concepts are listed according to district requirements and standards, the information is then translated into design determinants that plot the course for every design decision made by the architect.  In this way, the environment is designed as an active learning tool from the onset of the project (Taylor & Vlastos, 1983). 

Table 1:  Simplified Overview of the School Zone Model 

Education Architecture
Context  Systems thinking
Interdisciplinary Themes
The built, natural
and cultural environment
is a 3 - D textbook
Content  Concepts
Integrated subject matter
Standards and benchmarks
Design determinants are
based on curriculum content
(e.g., courtyard design contains working sundial)
Learning Processes Concrete to abstract skills
   across body, mind, spirit

Multiple intelligences
Programming and design
process addresses client
and diverse ways of learning
Programming and Design by Anne Taylor | | © April 2001 next >