Design Features for Project-Based Learning
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Phase III of the Study

       Phase III of the study was one event, a two-day design studio that I conducted in March 2001, in which five architects and five educators participated. The design studio was held at the former Kennedy Elementary School, in Portland, Oregon. The facility is no longer being used as a school but has been converted into a hotel/conference facility and remains as a community center for the neighborhood. The Kennedy School was chosen because it represented a learning facility and because of the amenities it provided such as lodging, work space with natural lighting, table space, tack and chalk boards, areas for relaxation, and convenient access to food and beverage.
        The findings of Phase III were organized around the three designs for physical 
learning environments developed by the participants and includes narrative of the process 
used by each team to produce a design of the physical learning environment that supports 
and enhances collaborative, project-based learning. For purposes of clarification of 
participants' quotes or meanings, I placed my interpretations within brackets. 

Findings from Design Studio

       The first design (Design #1) produced by participants of Team A used the 
Kennedy School as a model from which to work. The second design (Design #2) created 
by participants of Team B was based on a composite of individual projects selected by 
each member of the team. The third design (Design #3) conceived by a participant who 
illustrated the design process for building physical learning environments using both a 
historical and a futuristic approach. 

Design #1 
       Team A took an existing structure, the Kennedy School as it is now [based on a
traditional, double-loaded corridor elementary school] and made it into a 200 student 
community college for the neighborhood." The Team named the college the "Learning 
Village" and felt very strongly that the design and the functionality of the building needed 
to reflect the community in which it was located.

We wanted to keep the building in the context of the community. It 
is a community college for 200 students. You can't build machine 
shops here, but our idea is that type of learning can be done in the 
greater community through cooperative education and 
apprenticeships. We felt it was important to stay with the history of 
the building and the neighborhood. It is important to retain the 
spirit of the building because it belongs to the community. The 
community areas will have open access. It is important to integrate 
with the neighborhood.

        In recognizing that the design and functionality may change over time, as the 
neighborhood's needs change, one participant explained that "This design would have to 
be tested [for its functionality], [and] it could be used as a model. It shows the evolution 
and transformation of a model to satisfy the requirements. It is built in increments [as new 
functions are brought in] and in layers [as community needs change]. This is a schematic 
diagram and over time would evolve into good use of space to create a collaborative 
       Team A designed a facility that encourages partnerships with the local 

…but it should be an enabling environment, …we are starting to draw 
partnerships between the communities and business. So, then we talked 
about partnership opportunities. This should be a place that has quality 
aesthetics to help with the pride and ownership felt by both the individuals 
that work here and people that use it…this should be a mark of pride for 
the community. It needs daylighting, connections between the indoors and 
outdoors, and options for hands on and interactive [learning], that tie back 
into [addressing] multiple learning styles.

We talked about the importance of partnerships with the community and 
where the partners "camp out" in the facility. That would be a piece of the 
next layer [referring to components of the college being built at different 
times as new uses became more apparent]. We developed the model from 
an internal standpoint [meaning the design supports the existing needs of 
the staff, learners, and surrounding neighborhood], and then we will work 
outward [determining other partnerships and needs]. Now we need to go 
and bring links toward the building [at this next stage, we need to create 
the external partnerships]. It is an inside/outside flipflop at this next stage 
[the needs of the external constituents are now the focus, rather than the 
internal needs]. We feel it is important to take the projects out to the 
public. We looked at the building as a pinwheel layout with components to 
create a strong link to the community [areas of the building are designed to 
"reach out" to the neighborhood (e.g. bay windows, extensions of certain 
areas of the building) to create more visibility and access to the 

       It was Team A's intent that the "Learning Village" would retain its present 
purpose as a community center by providing access to the gymnasium and assembly areas 
to the greater community. "We have the four corners of the building lit up at night to 
serve as beacons to the community." 
       Team A also used the concept of "zoning" in their design to designate areas that 
ranged from private to public, from learner to staff, and according to types of activities. 
The zones, sometimes called "nodes" by the Team were: (a) staff node; (b) meeting zone; 
(c) process gallery or studio zones for messy or creative projects; (d) finished product 
zones; (e) courtyard zones; (f) the support zones of administration, student services, and 
media; (g) and the more public zones of the auditorium, cafeteria, and a gymnasium. 
Examples of activities in these zones were: (a) learners may access faculty planning areas 
by appointment rather than having open access at all times; (b) the classroom/laboratory 
zones were more private and used for direct instruction; and (c) as the learners gained 
skills, they moved their projects into the process gallery areas where the learning process 
became visible to other learners and staff. 
       In giving a verbal tour of the "Learning Village" (Figure 3), a participant
described the zones and nodes.

We start with the staff node where the collegial work between staff and 
teachers occurs. It is accessible by students by appointment for tutoring. 

Next we go the classroom, lab space [placed in three of the four corners of 
the building]. The classroom, lab space is a meeting zone for seminars and 
projects. It is more like an application lab where our ideas are hatched over 
here and then we migrate to multi-use [studio] spaces where projects are 
completed and then to the gallery spaces where they can be viewed by the 
public and judged for their merit. The classroom, lab spaces and the 
gallery spaces have lots of storage. 

To create a little more order and to create greater access, we moved the 
main entry to the other side of the building where it is closer to the 
parking. This is the area for the administration and student services. We 
retained the gymnasium space, which is still accessed by the public. We 
also retained the kitchen and cafeteria areas … We retained the courtyards 
[for access to the outdoors].

On the one end we kept the large assembly space but added more 
daylighting by putting in bay windows. On the other end, we have 
a media space with technology. It is a support area for the projects. 

      After the presentation of the "Learning Village," Team A described the various 
zones and aspects of the design in more detail. The studio areas included: (a) space for 
individual work areas, (b) team space, (c) a larger production space for messy and 
creative projects, and (d) a gallery space. These spaces were described in the following 

We created studio-production galleries for the finished product and 
the work in progress. We made the work highly transparent to the 
community from the courtyards and cafeteria so there is an 
interdisciplinary viewing of the stuff that is being created and 
worked on. We have project messy zones and project creative 
zones. We have areas that are highly public and some that are 
highly private. 

The studio idea is our strongest idea of using an existing building 
and making the corridors go away. It increases accessibility of 
student areas and integrates them with the public and they are open 
to the general population of the building. There are not a lot of 
secrets here. It is very open and yet has private areas.

It must have a gallery show case. A show case that can jazz up the 
events of things that are going on and not just the finished products 
but it should be a display of process of what's going on…because it 
is the process that counts in this whole community college

        In addition to providing space for producing products and for
showcasing final products or projects, the studio zones were seen as a way to stimulate 
integration of curriculum.

The studio zones increase the multidisciplinary aspect of the 
projects. An example is the solar car project, which is next to the 
class studying the effects of color on the psyche, which is also next 
to the engineering studio. They all come together to create 
upholstery for the car. 

Figure 3: Design #1

       It was my interpretation that, not only does this space encourage
integration of curriculum, but it can also increase cognitive skills and problem-solving 
skills with an open space design that supports formal and informal communication and 
the opportunity to practice and demonstrate skills and products. In describing the design, 
Team A talked about how the projects migrated from the classroom, lab zone out into the 
studio and gallery zones. 

Having the projects migrate from space to space was to address the desire for "cross-pollination" within the building. There is a tendency to create a studio and the support spaces and have that work be isolated. We used galleries for the products and the production processes to be visible to the internal students and staff but also to the general public. 

        The "Learning Village" was an example of taking an existing structure with the 
traditional double loaded corridor design [meaning a middle corridor with classrooms on 
each side of the corridor] and providing open, interactive spaces that support collaborative, project-based learning.

We want to reiterate, to show that with all the aging community college facilities out there with the double loaded corridor plans that we can adaptably reuse those spaces to create group communication, small group, [and] large group [spaces]. We tore out the middle, the guts and created a more open, flexible space. The cost would average around $70/sq. ft. compared to $130/sq.ft. for a new building. The utility comes from using what is there and 
converting it to a collaborative, project-based space.

It is being able to break away from the sort of sterile, stereotypical 
double loaded corridor classrooms down the middle to learning 
environments that inspire, allow for open communication and 
collaboration and sort of more in the manner in which humanity 
really works.

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