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Archive for August, 2006
Stories Catching Our Eye August 14th, 2006

Story 1: “Elementary School is Go for Green” (, 8.9.06) — a Maryland (US) elementary school is closing in on becoming the first public school in the state to achieve the stringent ‘‘green building” certification issued by the U.S. Green Building Council. Seems that this school is not only looking at the obvious opportunities, but looking for ‘educational’ opportunities at every turn:

The classrooms are brighter, the paint is lighter and the ceilings are slanted to allow maximum sunlight into classrooms through large, fiberglass-framed windows.

Sure to cause wonder in the boys’ bathroom are waterless urinals. And kindergarteners will get a refresher course on their colors every time they use the bathroom. They’ll push one button if it’s yellow and another if it’s brown. The toilet will dispense the needed power and water to flush whichever it is down.


Story 2: “University of Connecticut Decides to Build Its Own College Town” (NYTimes, 8.9.06) — In a brave attempt to re-create its own destiny, college leaders are demolishing the entire downtown of Mansfield, CT and so they can essentially start over from scratch. Realizing that a campus is far more than a collection of academic buildings, community seems to be on the tip of everyone’s design pens:

“Students came and saw there was no sense of place,” said Macon C. Toledano, the Storrs Center project manager for LeylandAlliance, a development company in Tuxedo, N.Y.

“This project offers an incredible opportunity to bring together families who live in the town, retired and working professors, and students,” Mr. Toledano said. “It depends upon appealing to this broad spectrum, and the more you do it, the more vital it will be.”


Story 3: “In Push to Open Up Smaller Schools, A Big Obstacle: Limited Space” (NYTimes, 8.3.06) — Much attention has been given in the recent past to New York City’s push for creating 200 small schools, supported by both Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein. Innovation aside, the real issue is the lack of real estate. In one building housing 4 indendent small schools, a 5th is being added even though that means taking away space from the others and creating a less-than-advantageous location for the new program. City officials, however, suggest that its an issue of using space efficiently rather than a lack of space:

Officials note that the city has spurned no option in creating new schools — converting old factories and warehouses and even leasing space in office towers. City school buildings, they say, have never been used so efficiently.

“We use the existing space better and better, which means there are fewer and fewer alternatives,” said Garth Harries, who leads the department’s Office of New Schools. Still, he said, officials believe they can find space for dozens more schools.


Story 4: “Off-the-Shelf Plans Could Save Design Fees” (, 7.31.06) — Again and again lately, it seems, the prototype argument seems to raise its head and entice yet another set of leaders to consider conceeding customized learning-centered planning for cost-savings. Perhaps unavoidable as construction costs continue to boom and districts fight to create enough seat-space for their students. Or perhaps something deeper? One Deleware (US) district considers this trend to support their facility needs:

But Judy Marks, associate director of the Washington-based National Clearinghouse for Educational Facilities, is skeptical when it comes to prototype buildings.

“A lot of times, it’s a solution sort of thrust on the community and that’s it, and it’s sold as the best they could do for the money,” she said. “Here’s your new school building, hope you like it.”

“You’re still going to have to hire an architect to make that predesigned building fit that site,” added John Marinucci, an education associate for school plant planning and maintenance with the state’s Department of Education.

Good Post-Katrina News Out of Louisiana August 12th, 2006

Good news out of Louisiana! Received the following today from Steven Bingler, founder and President of New Orleans-based community planning and school design firm Concordia:

On Thursday August 10, 2006 the Louisiana Recovery Authority approved guidelines for planning schoolsin Louisiana that reflect the eight national design principles developed at the Great Schools By Design National Summit.

Special thanks to Victoria Bergsagel for her testimony to the joint education committee of the Louisiana House and Senate last Tuesday. In addition to approving the guidelines, the Louisiana Recovery Authority also established an initial allocation of $200 million to begin the educational facilities recovery process.

The 8 national design principles include:

1. Design schools to support a variety of learning styles.
2. Enhance learning by integrating technology.
3. Foster a small school culture.
4. Support neighborhood schools.
5. Create schools as centers of community.
6. Engage the public in the planning process.
7. Make healthy, comfortable and flexible learning spaces.
8. Consider non-traditional options for school facilities and classrooms.

Full report from the National Summit on School Design. Or you can get a hard copy by following these directions:

To order a hard copy of the Report from the National Summit on School Design for $15.00 including shipping. Alternatively, you may call (202) 289-7800.

The Serious Business of Play August 11th, 2006

What can children’s play tell us about learning, about education, about school design?

According to the Children’s Museum of Manhattan (NY, NY), the “serious business of play” can tell us a great deal, indeed:

“The idea is that in moments of everyday play children are really getting a tremendous amount of education,” said Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, a professor of psychology at Temple University and an author of “Einstein Never Used Flashcards,” a book whose title sums up the exhibition’s philosophy. In a telephone interview Dr. Hirsh-Pasek, an adviser to the project, said that the significance of play as a foundation for learning was “a critically important cultural message.”

The museum has invested $3 million in a new permanent exhibit entitled “Play Works” that is meant to teach adults about the learning process as much as it is to let kids play and explore art and other creative ventures.

Just as exciting is the early attention to the influence of space deisgn on the playing and learning process:

It is a message the museum intends to take far beyond Manhattan. The $3 million “PlayWorks,” to open Sept. 21 in the museum’s building at 212 West 83rd Street, represents the start of its National Family Play and Learning Initiative, a program spanning several years in which the museum hopes to provide models for similar exhibitions nationwide. In late 2007 it plans to open a satellite version of “PlayWorks” in the South Bronx, the first step toward establishing a children’s museum in that borough.

“The steps are that we open ‘PlayWorks’ here, and we study it,” said Andrew S. Ackerman, the executive director of the Children’s Museum of Manhattan, during a recent tour of the building’s third floor, which has been completely gutted for the project. “With an advisory group we’ll look at the different ways we can replicate it nationally. We may provide blueprints for a physical space, or just a curriculum if a community doesn’t want a physical space.”

Certainly a reminder of the commitment that many museums make to the development of children…and the reminder that ‘learning environments’ exist throughout out communities.

Chinese Children’s Bookstore Creates New Vision for Imagination August 11th, 2006

With an ever-open eye for trends that suggest a re-thinking of the traditional learning environment, DesignShare noticed a wonderful project in Beijing, China that pushes the boundaries on a children’s bookstore:

Beijing bookstore

As noted in one trend-spotter source:

No longer just the world’s ‘workroom’, China is rapidly becoming an international hot spot with a growing middle class hungry for western luxuries and comforts. Beijing kids are the latest to be treated to some western style indulgence with Kids Republic, a children’s bookstore that transports it’s pint sized customers into a delightful fairytale world full of color and fantasy – complete with massive story telling screens and play areas. It’s haven for little imaginations in the heart of one of the biggest cities in the world.

Could such a delightful and imagine-filled space be an indicator of how school libraries will one day ‘compete’ for the attention of their youngest ‘customers’?

Cinder Block “Super Dorms” On the Chopping Block? August 4th, 2006

The work-play-live motif is clearly entering the realm of the college/university residence hall design world. As universities compete for students and re-brand their buildings/spaces, the ability to offer a residential ‘experience’ that merges all needs will be critical.

In addition, students and the community at large are expecting the ‘material’ structure of the dormitory building to be more responsive to future needs. Green and sustainable construction certainly seems to be on the tip of everyone’s design tongue. Smart buildings aren’t far behind from a technology stand point and also from a philosophical point of view as well. So much for the default cinder block construction solution seems to also be on the chopping blocks, so to speak.

This came to mind when we took notice of the “Dorms of the Future” article at CNNMoney recently. A snippet before you dive into the full article:

“The old dorms with cinder block walls are a thing of the past,” says William Rawn, whose architecture firm William Rawn Associates has worked on residence halls for a number of universities located in the Northeast.

In 2004, the University of South Carolina opened its $31 million West Quad dormitories, which are partially powered by a hydrogen fuel cell and boast turf roofs that serve as natural insulators.

And this fall Tufts University will officially open Sophia Gordon Hall, a dorm which will feature solar panels that preheat the building’s hot water and one waterless urinal in the men’s public bathroom which relies on chemical cartridges instead of running water.

We at DesignShare are happy that the “super dorms” strategy may be giving way to a new breed of 21st century thinking. The article continue along this line here: Read the rest of this entry »

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