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image Blog Category: Role of the School Designer

AIA Schools in a Flat World Conference

June 19th, 2008

AIA Schools in a Flat World Conference
September 10-13, 2008

Helsinki, Finland

Globalization now affects every industry, as journalist Thomas L. Friedman illustrated in the bestseller, The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the 21st Century.

We invite you to attend “Schools in a Flat World,” a conference that will explore educational design solutions ranging from a small Arctic high school to a 100,000-student university in India. This gathering will attract architects, administrators, and school building professionals from six continents, who will share their unique challenges and design solutions.

Helsinki and its architectural treasures will form a memorable backdrop for meeting, learning from, and networking with education-facility architects from Europe, North America, Asia, Australia, and Africa. Best of all, “Schools in a Flat World” will deliver a program packed with sights, sessions, and stories that you will find nowhere else. Guided tours will visit Helsinki schools that show how design and construction can improve and enhance the learning environment.

Visit for more information or to register.

Greetings! I’m thinking about time and space management…

September 13th, 2007

G’day to the DS community! I’m Annalise and here’s my first post. (You can find out more about me on the FNI website under ‘Resumes’ if you’re interested in my background in school design).

Recently, Jeff and I have been discussing the issue of scheduling, or timetabling, in new-paradigm schools.

You have, or are planning to have, a great new school, or a great small learning community. There is space for all sorts of different learning modalities, and of course it’s humane and comfortable. But — how do you work out who goes where at what time? It’s so easy to work out in an old-paradigm school with those standard units of measurement: classrooms and classes. New-paradigm schools are different though. The unit of measurement is not a class — it’s a human. And with all sorts of different sized spaces, that have different qualities, we need to think differently about where the people in it are going to spend their time, and what they’re going to do there.

In a school like Minnesota New Country School, the timetable is very simple. All students spend all day working on individual or group projects, and having occasional meetings with advisers. Occasionally there’s a ‘town meeting’, and at the end of the day, time set aside for writing up. Basically, most students spend most of the day working at their desk, like in an office. I think even lunch time is a fairly casual affair with flexible start/finish times.

At the other end of the spectrum is a traditional high school timetable, in which during every minute of the day the student falls under the active supervision and ‘control’ of a teacher. The teachers change and the rooms change but that’s it. The time period is uniform and the space is uniform for most subjects.

We’re working on a range of timetabling scenarios that fit along this spectrum, and mapping them onto some of our designs. The scenarios are less prescriptive than a traditional HS timetable, but they should ease the concerns of teachers thinking that working with students in 21st century learning environments will be like herding cats in a forest!

What made you want to design schools?

September 3rd, 2007

How did you get involved in designing schools? If it’s your livelihood, I’m sure there is an interesting chain of events much like Tiffany’s story below. For someone like me, who is early into her design career, it may seem odd that I have chosen to “specialize” so early. So, since we are on the topic of telling our stories, I would like to share mine as it is also a way to introduce myself to the DesignShare community…..

For me it was not something that I actively sought out - it just happened, with a little bit of fate thrown in. My first internship happened to be with a mid-size architectural firm whose work mainly focused on educational facilities. I spent most of the summer designing floor patterns and color palettes - and of course, the dreaded job of organizing the materials library. It was my first experience with an architectural firm and I was bright-eyed and eager to soak in as much information as possible. I learned the basics of construction documents, about specifying furniture, and where to look for lockers and science lab tables. Normal intern stuff. But one thing I noticed was that the actual design of the schools were, well, boring. Just basic school design with hallways and lockers and square classrooms. I could not help thinking that more could be done to make these spaces more interesting, more engaging, more comfortable.

The school year started and, by coincidence, one of our projects that fall semester was to design new classrooms and offices for our university’s honors program. During the programming stage, we researched ideal learning environments, interviewed the students and staff, and shared information with one another in the studio. A Learning Environments Symposium was held on our campus with visiting designers and architects and Herman Miller representatives. It was a day-long event where professors and students were invited to share ideas about what makes an ideal learning environment - What are the components? How can furniture, lighting, layout, architectural elements support the goals? I was exposed to a whole new world of educational design where the goal was to create spaces that satisfied students and teachers, enhancing learning with design, backed by research! I was getting intrigued. Then, I remember speaking with an architect after the meeting and relaying my experiences that I had over the summer. And he gave me great advice - “Designers get bored very easily, it is a common problem. But it is our job to continually stay interested and to never stop learning.”

So I kept learning. I worked at other firms, gaining more experience and knowledge in other commercial design arenas, but my interest in educational design never really went away — which one of my professor’s notice (Thank you, Dr. Hasell) and she encouraged me to follow that passion. Which eventually lead me to picking my topic for my thesis research, which combined my interest with learning environments and the use of action research techniques in the process of programming and designing spaces. Through my research I discovered Jeff Lackney and his articles about action research and school design. Through him I discovered Fielding Nair, International and was instantly drawn to their portfolio of work and design philosophies. Searching the FNI website, I saw that they had an office in Tampa, which was where I was living. It seemed too good to be true…or was this fate once again coming into play! I contacted Prakash Nair, we met, then I met Randy Fielding and Tiffany Green…I liked their style and their zeal and intellect…and they must have liked something about me because now I am working as a consultant with FNI, contributing to their creative process to build the best schools as possible. I will also be blogging on DesignShare sharing design ideas, sustainable products, and current trends (I welcome any comments or ideas!); plus, my personal experiences working with FNI. Being involved in the DesignShare network, I hope to meet more like-minded individuals who are committed to creating great schools and willing to share ideas!
And please feel free to share your stories…

Jennifer Lamar, Contributing Designer

Will Architecture Firms Begin Blogging?

March 22nd, 2006

Whether as a marketing tool or as a pre-design tool with clients, it only seems ‘logical’ that architectural firms will begin to consider the pros/cons of adding blogging to their communication arsenal.

Me, I’m biased, but there is much to weigh and each firm must think it through on their terms. For school design firms, it seems even more advantageous given the nature of needing community feedback and buy-in over the conceptual and schematic phases of project development. Read the rest of this entry »

Why That Remarkable Design Brochure of Ours Really Doesn’t Matter

March 22nd, 2006

One of the many wonderful things about architecture firms and school planners is the high-design of many of our press releases, brochures, RFQ documents, client PowerPoints, and other “hey, look at what we can do!” media-darlings. Seems impossible to imagine a day when we wouldn’t all be invested in showcasing our firm’s ability, culture, and services in high-gloss ways, esp. in an effort to tell a great ’school design story.’

The question is, however, does it really matter? To the client, does all of this really end up making a difference?

According to Seth Godin (PR-god; author of the Purple Cow and other marketing gems), it doesn’t matter one tiny ounce…but read his words to learn for yourself: Read the rest of this entry »

Considering Philadelphia’s “School of the Future” as a Model

March 1st, 2006

Had the pleasure of reading “Is This the School of the Future” (Scholastic Admnistrator magazine Feb. ‘06), last night, thanks to the suggestion of a superintendent I’m currently working with these days. His curiosity about the Microsoft/City of Philadelphia initiative was quite evident, both as a partnership and program. And I believe he was equally interested in it as a school ‘design’ in the purest architectural manner.

Without getting into the Microsoft debate, or even if this is or is not the ‘ideal’ progressive architectural solution, I simply pose the following question to you:

How would you describe the “school of the future” and what are the components and elements that give it meaning and form?

Bridges Between Architectural Education Models

February 27th, 2006

Posted as an open-challenge by Pablo Campos Calvo-Sotelo, PhD Architect, University Campus Planning & Design, as the beginning of a larger conversation starter:


“Bridges between models”:

In other words, the idea would be to explore and review how different cultures have generated different educational archetypes, and how those models have influenced other cultures.

For example, the oxbridge qaudrangle to the American campus birth, or the American Campus to the European Universities in the XX Century

Any such models and archetypes come to mind? Your thoughts?

No Such Thing As Flexible Space

February 27th, 2006

The following post was submitted by William Brenner:


I frequently see the term “flexible space” used in association with what is presented as progressive thinking about school design. I submit that there is no such thing as flexible space, except perhaps in an Einsteinian sense. Read the rest of this entry »

We Versus Me In the Classroom

February 27th, 2006

This post was written by Roger Leeson, AIA, Architect, LS3P Associates, LTD in response to the “grave conflict between social learning and customizing the experience of learning to suit each and every individual taste and style.”


The United States has embraced the principle of universal education in support of democracy.

Our founders were the product of enlightenment values and most received an education in “the classics”. This tradition has continued for centuries. The now reviled, “sage on stage” provided a structure of common social experiences that reinforced common values. Education is a social action in this country. Read the rest of this entry »

R.O.I. (Return on Investment) Thinking

February 19th, 2006

“Ideas and products and messages and behaviors spread just like viruses do.” — Malcolm Gladwell, The Tipping Point


2 Questions:

1. Which has greater impact — the ability to plan/design/build a remarkable learning environment that is handed over to the community or helping a community ‘be remarkable’ in whatever built learning environment they possess?

2. Where is the greatest R.O.I. (Return on Investment) when all is said and done?

Read the rest of this entry »

Becoming a Design-Oriented Story-teller While Still Looking After the Community

February 16th, 2006

Ever run into Seth Godin?

If not, a good place to start is his near-famous All Marketers Are Liars: The Power of Telling Authentic Stories in a Low-Trust World. On page 30, he offers the following short bit of advice in the “post-Golden Age of Marketing”:

“There are only two things that separate success from failure in most organizations today:
Read the rest of this entry »

“We know a great deal about how people learn and about designing schools that enhance learning.” — Randy Fielding

February 16th, 2006

The point of blogging is reaction, response, collaboration, compromise. Not expertise…and certainly not the little bit of knowledge I have at this point i my life.

Randy offered a healthy and spirited response to my “Knowing Nothing and Powerful Beyond Measure” post (2.14.06).

(If I were a betting man, I’d wager the first crisp dollar bill on Randy’s response over my initial provocation. In its entirety, here is Randy’s response that deserves certainly more light of day than to be buried in the ‘comment’ section.)

Agree or disagree with either of us, feel free to add your voice:

“Wow Christian, you have responded with wonderful vigor to my nudge to follow Shakespeare’s advice to “Arm me with Audacity!” I disagree with a major point in your commentary, but love the spirit of it!

Read the rest of this entry »

Leaping Forward Beyond Best Practices

February 16th, 2006

As we begin to think not only about our seat at the table as this blog conversation begins, but the larger goals of producing great learning environments suited for the future, I am brought back to an early moment in Prakash and Randall’s The Language of School Design: Design Patterns for 21st Century Schools.

Jeffrey Lackney offers the following in his introduction: Read the rest of this entry »

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