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« As Much for the Community as the Campus

With so much debate about how to move schools and students into the ‘future of learning’, is it possible that we all secretly want our school buildings to reflect the design and construction traditions of the 1920’s? Or earlier? [Judy, thanks for the article link]

School designers face a dilemma, a hopeless one.

The public sees Grimsley High School, High Point Central and R.J. Reynolds in Winston-Salem, all built in the 1920s before the Great Depression and World War II, and grouse: “Why can’t they build schools like those anymore?”

They can, designers say.

But if they did, duck! The wrath of the same public would be fierce.

Is this nostalgia speaking or is it about holding onto buildings that will stand the test of time? Or is it about developing dynamic learning environments that will support how technology, collaboration, brain sciences, authentic projects, and other present-day insights are now available to us? And will we want our school buildings in the future to be testaments to the enduring nature of traditional architecture, or to actually “follow” the form of what education and learning is evolving into in the decades ahead?

Greensboro architect Virginia Freyaldenhoven, whose firm, TFF, has worked for the county schools, says school and public buildings once “held a more important place in the framework of a town. They were more monumental.”

Monument to our past? Or our students’ future?

Design aside, will we see a day and time in the relative near future where school leaders/districts/authorities will no longer want to “be in the business of school buildings”? Or of communities demanding that their tax dollars go to develop shared spaces for all community members — an asset map of learning spaces for all stakeholders — rather than harkening back to the iconic school house of the past?

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