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Archive for October, 2006
Los Angeles: Leading the Pack of Greening Schools? October 27th, 2006

Very impressive to hear a major urban school district, who is under substantial financial/political pressure resulting from a major population spike, take the lead in developing sustainable and green strategies for buildings that are often seen as merely ‘housing’ kids.:

“Whereas students learn best in an environment that is comfortable, healthy, naturally lit and well maintained, and studies indicate that student achievement is greater and attendance higher when these conditions are met … ”

The quotation comes from a recent article entitled “The Greening of LAUSD” which passionately details the remarkable efforts to bring sustainable design practices to 940+ campuses in the Los Angeles Unified School District, a massive educational system that supports over 720,000 K-12 students.

What caught our attention most were the significant combinations of public/private partnerships that have helped the city’s school system re-imagine how schools and campuses could be designed and renovated via sustainable and environmentally focused practices. Even better, the article discusses how high performance school design efforts at some of the district’s schools have actually helped to raise student learning in the process:

1999-2000, along with TreePeople, the L.A. Conservation Corps, and the Hollywood Beautification Team, DWP funded the removal of tons of asphalt at both Multnomah Highly Gifted Center downtown and Broadous Elementary Math/Science Magnet Center in Pacoima through its Adopt-A-School program. At Multnomah, a cistern system now provides recycled irrigation water for extensive green areas and flower gardens. At Broadous, water filtration technology can capture and reclaim up to a half-million gallons of rainwater, while the value produced by flood prevention and groundwater recharge paid for a new soccer field. Both schools use green areas for study programs; both cut down on playground injuries, and it may be a coincidence, but Broadous’s test scores for the state’s Academic Performance Index rose 80 points in 2002, one of the largest gains in the district.

A little background history on LAUSD and the explosion of school construction/renovation that has occurred since 1992 which helped in part spark a new way of thinking when it came to fostering schools that were sustainable and able to make a positive impact on kids, schools, and their communities:

“[P]rior to 2002, there had been practically no construction for a quarter century, with no major expansion since post World War II. The exploding enrollment that necessitated 1997’s Proposition BB and a succession of state and local bond issues required a plan for 150,000 new seats.”

The article goes on to discuss an interesting consideration of “optimal learning conditions” that goes beyond shelter and simply having textbooks; also a great primer on CHPS (”chips,” as it is often known, stands for the Collaborative for High Performance Schools) for those of you who may want to refresh your memory, too:

“While most citizens equate optimal learning conditions with class size, textbooks, and teacher preparation, an enlightened corps of architects, engineers, environmental scientists, project managers, and energy professionals have persuaded the local educational hierarchy of much more: the maximum efficient use of daylighting; the optimizing of thermal, visual, and acoustic comfort; the reduction of heat islands through shading and lighter paving materials; managing storm water runoff; incorporating high-performance HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning) systems; as well as the maximum use of recycling in both construction and demolition – in short, high performance schools.”

Are you seeing similar sustainable “high performance” facility efforts in large, or small, urban contexts near you? Do you see the efforts in LAUSD being replicable elsewhere, or is this a perfect storm of need and opportunity?

Thanks to Judy Marks at the National Clearinghouse for Educational Facilities for pointing out attention to this timely story. And as she said, its refreshing to see such an article being written by a screen writer who understands the impact of storytelling.

Considering the Paradox of Growth and Disparity in US School Construction October 27th, 2006

While few debate that school buildings around the US are in need of repair, renovation, and replacement, the construction boom of the last decade suggests that we must be making significant progress. 12,000 new schools in ten years. 130,000 major renovation projects in ten years. $500 billion ($600 billion with interest) in ten years. Serious numbers, in other words, and with serious dollar amounts attached to these projects.

$500 billion worth of new construction and renovation over a ten-year period must have made a profound impact. Right? $500 billion worth of new construction and renovation must mean that we’re beginning to balance the ‘base need’ educational facility scales for school communities across the country. Right? $500 billion worth of new construction and renovation over a ten-year period must suggest that all public school communities are beginning to see shifts in how their campuses are creating 21st century learning environments. Right?

According to today’s release by BEST (Building Educational Success Together) partners (see below for a complete list of involved organizations) of the “Growth and Disparity: A Decade of Public School Construction 1995-2004″ , too many students are still in overcrowded classrooms within buildings that fall below acceptable standards. Most disappointing is that in a time of such massive school construction growth, disparities seem to be growing just as quickly:

“…the schools with the greatest need, primarily those in high-poverty and predominantly minority school districts, have seen the least investment.”

Equally disconcerting, for these school communities, facility money that does come in goes to maintaining basic health and safety elements (such as aesbestos removal) rather than helping to redefine the learning spaces for positive educational outcomes. As the report states:

“The inadequacy of funding in low-income districts and communities and the disparity in who benefitted from this spneding woudl not be of such importance if the condition, design, and use of school buildings did not affect the quality of education. An increased body of research indicates that poor building conditions . . . are obstacles to academic achievement.”

Might be worth downloading the 40-page “Growth and Disparity” report. And might be worth using it as a prompt that stretches beyond simply calling for more dollars, but calling for a re-imagination of what we mean by true 21st century learning environments for all of our students and communities.

Note: BEST partners include:

  • 21st Century School Fund
  • Center for Cities & Schools, Univ. of California, Berkeley
  • Education Law Center
  • KnowledgeWorks Foundation
  • National Trust for Historic Preservation
  • National Clearinghouse for Educational Facilities
  • Neighborhood Capital Budget Group
  • New Visions for Public Schools
  • End of the ‘Wet’ Science Lab? October 25th, 2006

    Hard to imagine a school science lab without bunsen burners, beakers, and endless safety devices built into the design of the room. And yet, the potential of technology moving the school design community beyond the traditioanl ‘wet’ science lab — a lab both expensive in construction, liability and maintenance — seems closer and closer each day. So close that some very significant educational groups are beginning to take a serious look at the academic pros/cons of virtual labs:

    Now, however, a dispute with potentially far-reaching consequences has flared over how far the Internet can go in displacing the brick-and-mortar laboratory.Prompted by skeptical university professors, the College Board, one of the most powerful organizations in American education, is questioning whether Internet-based laboratories are an acceptable substitute for the hands-on culturing of gels and peering through microscopes that have long been essential ingredients of American laboratory science.

    As part of a broader audit of the thousands of high school courses that display its Advanced Placement trademark, the board has recruited panels of university professors and experts in Internet-based learning to scrutinize the quality of online laboratories used in Web-based A.P. science courses.

    “Professors are saying that simulations can be really good, that they use them to supplement their own lab work, but that they’d be concerned about giving credit to students who have never had any experience in a hands-on lab,” said Trevor Packer, the board’s executive director for Advanced Placement. “You could have students going straight into second-year college science courses without ever having used a Bunsen burner.”

    While the majority of the article explores the ‘threat’ to on-line/virtual schools losing curriculum status and accreditation if they are not able to offer ‘legitimate’ science courses using digital means, there are tremendous take-away’s for the school design community. Imagine if a forward-thinking school design team and an equally forward-thinking school community put their head’s together and imagined the shifting tetonics of tomorrow’s science lab, away from the traditional slate-covered science stations complete with gas and water, looking at the changing face of learning and the potential cost/liability impact at the end of the day.

    Think forward 20 years. Does the average student enter a traditional ‘wet’ science lab or do they enter a space filled with virtual technologies that simulate the scientific process?

    Your thoughts? Oh, and if you have time, consider heading over to Edutopia and exploring their previous article entitled, “Designing Virtual Communities for Creativity and Learning.”

    German Universities Seeking Quality Over Equity October 25th, 2006

    In an effort to change the status-quo in German universities, debates over ‘quality vs. equality’ and a new approach to funding are sparking a revolution of sorts:

    “We’re moving from a republic of professors to an entrepreneurial university,” said Peter Frankenberg, the minister who oversees universities in Baden-Württemberg, home of Heidelberg and Karlsruhe.

    From a facility perspective, this seems ready to spark a new way of thinking of the classic German university setting — from campus design to classroom space to integrating resources into a larger network of learning/collaboration environments.”

    Worth reading the entire article. Other key take-aways:

    Changing of the guard of ‘elite’ universities:

    Yet last week, when a German government committee anointed three institutions as elite universities — a sort of Teutonic Ivy League — Karlsruhe made the cut while Heidelberg did not. The other winners were the University of Munich and the Technical University, also in Munich.

    The much anticipated decision, which entitles the schools to more than $100 million each over the next five years, sent spirits soaring at Karlsruhe and swooning at Heidelberg. It also set off a national discussion about the nature of excellence, the necessity of focusing on science and technology and the wisdom of culling the great from the merely good.

    Revisiting the ‘landscape’ of quality vs. equity:

    With German universities — once the envy of the academic world — in decline for decades, Mr. Hommelhoff said most Germans accepted that radical measures were needed to propel them back into competition with their rivals in Britain, Switzerland and especially the United States.

    To start with, Germans are abandoning a notion that all universities are basically equal — an ideal that dates from the 1970’s when university admissions were opened up and that has served to mask vast disparities in quality among the country’s 102 universities.

    “Germany was never a flat landscape,” said Wolfgang Ketterle, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist who was a member of the selection committee. “There were always hills and valleys. Our hope is that some of these hills will now grow into well-defined mountains.”

    Designating elite universities reveals some awkward truths about German higher education that were known but rarely acknowledged.

    What do you see as the design challenges/opporutunities that grow out of a national re-investement/re-imagination of an entire university system? Or is this merely a matter of funding and changing the position of the elite university rankings, with little impact on what an elite university ‘looks like’ in the end?

    Designing Access for the Blind in a Digital Age October 25th, 2006

    In a day and age of increased technology-based learning programs in schools around the world, what role does a school planner/designer have in helping a school community consider access for the blind in a ‘digital’ landscape? Is this only a consideration for the educators, or does the design community need to advocate for the impact of technology-based learning on all learners — regardless of ability — in the spaces we help to create? is there a limit to the elements that educational facility experts must embrace when it comest to developing truly engaging learning environments for the 21st century?

    If time allows, it might be worth using this as a prompt as you read this recent NYTimes article that looks at the liability being faced as blind users of the Internet seek equitable techonlogies. In particular, the following grabbed our attention:

    Internet search giant Google Inc. is getting into the act as well. In July it launched a project to identify and rank Web sites that offer significant accessibility to the blind.

    As more information and services migrate online, keeping access open to it is of paramount importance to advocates for the blind.

    “The blind have more access to information than they ever had in history — but that’s only true to the extent that Web accessibility is maintained,” Danielsen said. “The technology is out there, and we don’t need barriers to be put in our way. Give us a way in.”

    While the article stresses consumer-based retail web sites as being held to a new standard for ‘access’ by the blind, it seems that schools — where the digital learning landscape is gathering speed in both design and usage — might not be far behind in terms of attention and liability. But more importantly, perhaps the school design community is in a position to consider the impact of ‘wayfinding’ and ‘access’ issues that occur in a 3-dimensional sense as launching points for deeper conversations with our school communities/clients.

    Your thoughts?

    Exploring SCUP’s Sustainable Campus Day October 25th, 2006

    The Chronicle for Higher Education recently offered a special report recently on the idea of a ’sustainable’ campus. [note: if link is dead, you may have to be a registered member to read the full article or contact the Chronicle to inquire about access] In particular, you may want to consider exploring an interactive offering entitled “On The Ground: What a sustainable campus might look like.” Here is an excerpt from the introduction to the report:

    One that promotes the concept of meeting present needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
    That’s the definition of sustainability derived from a United Nations report that helped make the term part of the parlance of politicians, academics, and rock stars. While it sounds simple, the idea is remarkably complex when put into practice because it seeks to unite actions that in the past have often competed with each other. For a process to be sustainable, it must preserve the environment, stimulate economic growth, and improve society by helping people. This week, as the population of the United States tops 300 million, the quest for sustainability takes on added importance.

    And as the article goes on to ask, what impact does sustainability have for our universities?

    To answer that, we suggest looking into the work of SCUP (Society of College and University Planners) who offered their 4th webcast installment of the “Sustainable Campus Day” program today (10.25.06). While the webcast already came and went earlier today, we’d like to offer a bit of attention to their program. In the 4th consecutive year of conversations, the program looks at a wide range of post-secondary institutions in terms of the integration of sustainable practices and design solutions across their campuses. This year, members of several 2-year, 4-year, and research institutions (including Harvard, Arizona State, Grand Valley State, and Pima County Community College) were invited to share answers to the following questions:

  • Does all of operations know what each other is doing?
  • Do researchers and faculty know what operations is doing?
  • Do faculty know what each other are doing?
  • Do faculty incorporate things that operations does as modeling for learning?
  • If you missed the live webcast, consider ordering the CD. Or, learn more about the overall Sustainable Campus Day program here or read the PDF summary document from last year’s event.

    Judy Marks: Updates from NCEF October 6th, 2006

    We’re very grateful to have the opportunity to connect regularly with Judy Marks and her team at NCEF (National Clearinghouse for Educational Facilities). As many of you know, there may be no better resource for the 4 corners of the educational facility planet. Not only are the resources seemingly infinite, but the people that work doggedly to find them, like Judy, are tremendous advocates for the future of school design.

    On occasion, Judy will be adding her voice here at the DesignShare blog, pointing us all to resources that are worth keeping an eye out for. The following just came our way. Talk about a great way to get involved with issues that affect all school communities and design teams without having to get on a plane!

    Lots of learning opportunities in October without even leaving yourdesk.

    Webcasts or webinars, some free and some with hefty registration fees, are showing up more and more in the educational facility field. Webinar is short for web-based seminar and is generally interactive, while a webcast is a one way transmission of information.

    The NCEF (National Clearinghouse for Educational Facilities) Calendar lists a series of webcasts from the Environmental Protection Agency on healthy school issues, an APPA webinar on the impact of facilities on student recruitment and retention, and a technical webinar for facility managers on identifying, remediating, and preventing mold in buildings.

    Have further questions or school design resources you’d recommend to the NCEF?

    Get in touch with Judy at

    Robert Schank’s Metaphor of the Library October 6th, 2006

    In a past DesignShare article written by Randy Fielding entitled “The Death of the Classroom, Learning Cycles and Roger Schank,” we are introduced to Roger’s passionate and provoative claim:

    “Classrooms are out! No more classrooms! Don’t build them!”

    Schank, the Founder of the renowned Institute for the Learning Sciences at Northwestern University, where he is John P. Evans Professor Emeritus in Computer Science, Education and Psychology, challenges the entire premise of the classroom of old. Fielding states::

    According to Roger, the only way we learn is through “doing,” and failure. Failure gets our attention, it fosters an emotional response, which is essential for learning. “Doing,” and emotional experiences rarely take place in a classroom:

      “We should spend about 1/3 of our day at the computer, 1/3 talking with others, and 1/3 making something.”

    What are the environmental implications if learners are spending 1/3 of their day at the computer, 1/3 talking with others and 1/3 making something?

    We were reminded of this while reading the District Administration’s blog, The Pulse, this past week when Roger moves further into the classic school building of old, challenging our assumptions based in the library as space and as metaphor for learning. He writes:

    One such disastrous metaphor has dominated thinking about learning for a very long time. We need to get over it if we ever wish to see schooling become in any way relevant in the “knowledge society.” I am talking about the metaphor of knowledge as akin to something to be found in a library.

    Libraries have been around for a long time. For generations, knowledge was contained in libraries, or so it seemed. But, in fact, this was never true. It didn’t matter much, until recently.

    Concomitant with the idea that knowledge is contained in libraries is the idea that knowledge is found through search. In the old days, when people actually went to libraries, there were card catalogues, which were created with arcane notions such as the Dewey Decimal System that helped searchers find books that had been properly catalogued. But we don’t need that stuff anymore, because we have Google. Search has gotten easier, but real knowledge hasn’t changed.

    The problem is that both the library metaphor, and the search metaphor have misled us in serious ways. The consequences of that will take a moment to explain.

    Given the blend of information and searching, technologies and tradition, learner and teacher, found in schools sitting on the edge of the 21st century, do you agree with Schank’s premise that the library, as metaphor and as information space, lies ripe for re-design?

    Edutopia’s founder, George Lucas, Sparks a Film School Re-Design October 5th, 2006

    Considering the passionate celebration of education here in the US and beyond of filmmaker George Lucas, and DesignShare’s pride in partnering with the Edutopia team (sponsored by the George Lucas Educational Foundation), this story caught our eye today:

    In the single largest donation in USC’s (Univ. of Southern California) history, the filmmaker is helping to spark the creation of a learning environment that will truly put the USC film school at the top of the charts:

    One of the main changes the gift will bring will be a new, 137,000-square-foot, two-building complex to house the film school.

    Why do the new facilities matter?

    Within the world of film schools, USC already has gotten a top billing. In its most recent ranking of graduate film programs, U.S. News & World Report in 1997 rated USC tied with New York University for first place, with UCLA a close third. Still, one of the knocks on the school has been its cramped, aging facilities.

    The donation aims to remedy that problem with a pair of four-story buildings being designed in the Mediterranean Revival style that flourished in Southern California when the film school was established in 1929.

    The $75-million project, going up on the northern side of campus on a parking lot near the existing film school buildings, will provide multimedia classrooms, editing labs and other work space, along with faculty offices. Construction is expected to begin early in 2007 and to be completed by December 2008.

    Lucas, who described himself as an “amateur architect,” is treating the construction project much like one of his cinematic productions. He hired the architects Urban Design Group of Dallas and has worked with them on such minute aspects as the detailing on the archways.

    Thanks to ArchNewsNow for the tip on this story.

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