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« Will Architecture Firms Begin Blogging?

Last fall I received one of those out-of-the-blue phone calls or emails that only happens due to the blogosphere these days.

Chris Lehman, a principal opening up a new school in Philadelphia (fall, ‘06), had some questions about the potential lay-out of his retrofitted school and wanted to know if I could give him some advice on his floor plan before he confirmed decisions with his architect. Keep in mind, we had never met, and other than the ‘happy link-accident’ of each finding the other guy’s blog sometime before, this was a true ramp-up of conversation. And a brilliant example of what happens in this brave new world of school-design-meets-blogging.

Here’s the original series of posts on the “think:lab” blog to what happened conversationally between Chris and I last fall/winter: You may recall recently that I had posted about a unique series of ’school design’ conversations which had grown out of this crazy blogosphere reality (“Design a School, Web2.0 Style!”,12.10.05) or by having been to Chris Lehman’s blog and read his post (“Open Source School Design, Blogging and Why This All Matters”, 12.7.05).

In any event, Chris had recently read Randy’s article in Edutopia and wanted to take advantage of some of the ideas for the upcoming design of his new school. I suggested he write a series of comments about the article and throw them into the DesignShare Blog waters to see what happens. Here’s what he wrote:

One could argue that asking the color-blind guy to comment on an article about lighting and color is begging for an exercise in futility, but after telling Christian that I really enjoyed Randall Fielding’s article, What They See Is What We Get: Ten myths about lighting and color in schools in the March issue of Edutopia, he suggested I write up my thoughts. And since we’re in the process of working with the architects to decide on things like lighting and color schemes for the Science Leadership Academy, now seems as good a time as any.

Myth #1: I must admit that Mr. Fielding’s claim that we should not make the brightness of a room uniform seems counter-intuitive. I like the idea of making sure our classrooms are as flexible as possible, and sometimes, a comfortable sofa in the corner of the room can be a great place for learning. Darkening the corners seems to lose those spaces. But I also know how the uniform lighting that we see in a lot of classrooms can feel completely antiseptic, so I think I want to know more here. How do make sure that we don’t create “dark spots” in classrooms if the lighting isn’t uniform? And how do we make sure we don’t lose the flexibility that is so important in a progressive classroom?

Myth #2: Here, I couldn’t agree more. Mr. Fielding argues that we need to let the natural light and the real world in. On a personal level, I’m feeling it these days because my office — and the whole area I’m in this year — has no natural light, and on the days when I am actually in the museum all day, by the end of the day, I need to see real light. It’s a concern for me next year because for SLA to have the administrative space that I thought was most conducive to the kind of learning and interaction that we were talking about, I had to lose the office with windows. That’s o.k. — more importantly, I think there are only two classrooms in the building that don’t have natural light.

Myths #3 and 4 and 5: All of these make sense, but I can’t shake the thought that this means SLA should go with a “Pottery Barn Meets Starbucks” color palette. I’m not sure this is a bad thing, and I think it would create a really comfortable learning environment, but I also admit — this is where the color-blindness creates a ton of disconnect for me, because it makes color choices more difficult. I agree that the seven shades of off-white make for a sterile and cold environment, and certainly my favorite classrooms were vibrant places… but what is the alternative? And how many variations of color do we want in our classrooms?

And this seems to be the same issue as Myth #8 about Identical Light. In an ideal world, I suppose each teacher could design the colors in their classroom that works for them, but doesn’t that become cacophonous? And don’t we have to, at some point, acknowledge our financial limitations? It costs more to have many different colors (and kinds of lighting) in a school. And at what point does the cost- benefit analysis move toward uniformity?

Myths #6 and #7 — Fielding’s counter-arguments to myths 6 & 7 make complete sense.

Myth #9: This scares me as I’ve had a few experiences where coaching and playing in a gym with natural light was an amazing experience, but I’ve also been in several gyms where the natural light was a lighting disaster. Asking our kids to shoot free throws with the sun in their eyes in a key moment of a playoff game is cruel. (O.k. — I admit, I’ve been traumatized here.)

Myth #10: I agree… if you need the black box, get blackout shades, but much of the time, that performance space will double as a classroom — let the light in.

I think that, for me, the hard part about the entire piece is that color choices can take the most confident educator and bewilder them.

Yes, a lot of educators know that color choices matter, but the bolder the choices, the riskier they feel. And while an article like this goes a long way toward reinforcing my belief that we have to introduce color in SLA, I go back to earlier this week where I was in the furniture showroom, staring at twelve different fabric swatches feeling overwhelmed and wanting to go with the safest choice possible.

So how do we combat that desire to retreat back to these old assumptions without feeling overwhelmed when it comes time to make these choices?

*****

[Chris Lehmann is the founding principal of the Science Leadership
Academy
, a new public partnership high school between the Franklin Institute and the School District of Philadelphia. He is the author of the education blog, “Practical Theory”.

2 Responses to “School Leader and School Planner Discuss Myths of Design”

  1. DesignShare » Blog Archive » Randy Responds to School Leader’s Views on Design Myths Says:

    […] Recently, Chris Lehman — principal of the soon-to-be-opened Science Leadership Academy in Philly — wrote a series of reactions and questions to one of Randy Fielding’s articles on myths within the school design realm. Randy just offered the following set of responses. Here they are in order: […]

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