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Archive for January, 2007
What the Amish Can Teach Us About School Design Priorities January 25th, 2007

It would be a gross over-statement to suggest that the school-based tragedy that befell the Pennsylvania Amish community in the last few months should by itself lead to a post on school design.

Innocent lives were lost. A community was hit hardest where it counts most. And there is no short-cut to recovery or understanding.

What struck us, however, was that as the world was gathering to interview the community for late-breaking news stories, argue in editorial pages about ratcheting up school safety and security measures, and in general use the shootings as an example of how our schools and kids need to be locked down further, the Amish community who experienced it first-hand quietly razed the school house to the ground in a matter of hours while the rest of us were scurrying for talking points.

They left nothing of the original schoolhouse but the very ground the building originally stood upon. Tore it down within days. And began the healing process that would ultimately best serve their kids, families, and neighbors, so they could re-build and begin moving forward as a community. Instead of turning the tragedy into a device for dividing their community and ‘walling’ off their students from the real world, they opted for dignity and re-birth.

The community is in the process of re-building a one-room schoolhouse next to the site of the tragedy. Most interestingly — and powerfully — they have declined offers of increased ’security’ measures:

The new school will have doors that can be locked, as the previous building did, but will have no additional security measures, said Herman Bontrager, spokesman for a committee set up to receive donations following the massacre.

The reasons they offered are nothing short of profound, reminders to us all communities and the health of our students require level-headed reactions rather than over-reactive calls for gates and cameras:

While some members of the Amish community argued for increased security in the new school, most believe that the Nickel Mines massacre was an isolated incident caused by a troubled individual and that it is neither feasible nor desirable to install increased security, Bontrager said.

“Human beings are meant to live together in peace and one of the most important human traits is to be trustworthy,” Bontrager said.

We do not offer this reflection lightly. We do not suggest that schools should avoid common sense security measures to ensure the safety and well-being of their kids and community.

But we also believe that a small Amish community who has faced an unspeakable horror has much to teach every school design stakeholder about maintaining the priority of fostering ‘healthy’ communities above a ‘walled’ compounds.

Your thoughts?

North Carolina: Will $2 Billion in School Construction Create the Schools We Need? January 25th, 2007

What’s sparking citizens to approach the North Carolina state legislature to argue for a massive increase in school construction funding?

The speakers said their schools are crumbling, packed with too many students and using computers that are 10 to 15 years old.

“More than half of our schools are 40 years old or older,” said Shirley Prince, the superintendent of Scotland County schools. “We are really in dire straits.”

Will it make a difference? Possibly yes. Possibly no. But clearly even $2 billion won’t cover the real needs in this state (which probably is representative of most states, with obvious fluctuations in the relative costs):

State officials estimate that school districts need $9.8 billion in new construction and repairs over the next five years. But if the bond is approved, local governments would have to raise the remaining $7.8 billion, said Ed Dunlap, the executive director of the North Carolina School Boards Association, one of the members of the Everybody’s Business Coalition.

While funding is so critical in the process, one wonders if the design of learning environments best suited for the evolving needs of the future is being held simultaneously. Yes, we struggle to find the resources to simply offer ‘adequate’ school facilities. But the future of learning will require more than simply ensuring their are roofs and rows of seats.

Your thoughts?

NYC: Can $1 Billion Inspire Smaller Classes? January 24th, 2007

Whether your a proponent of the small schools movement or not, most stakeholders who focus on kids, teachers and learning - as well as the ‘feel’ and ’security’ of a school community - would opt for the least # of students in a classroom possible.

New York City appears to be offering up a pretty healthy call-to-arms in shape of a $1 billion dollar promise to reduce class sizes in city schools:

The head of New York City’s teachers’ union implored state lawmakers on Tuesday to reserve at least $1 billion of new state education spending to reduce class sizes.

The call, by Randi Weingarten, president of the 140,000-member United Federation of Teachers, was the opening salvo in the battle over how to finance city schools after the state’s highest court ruled last year that Albany must give those schools at least $2 billion in additional aid.

“We need this more than anything else — the only reform that has never been tried systemically in New York City, and that is a real lowering of class size,” Ms. Weingarten said at a breakfast with state lawmakers. Reducing class size would require hiring hundreds if not thousands of teachers.

Will the state support this? Recommend - sort of - may be a better way to describe their reaction to this brave and provocative proposal:

A spokeswoman for Gov. Eliot Spitzer said that in his budget message next week, he would propose overhauling the state’s school aid formula, greatly increasing the dollars available for city schools, and would allow school districts to use the money to reduce class size but not require it.

If they can get the funding, why will it matter?

Ms. Weingarten said the $1 billion she called for to reduce the size of classes in city schools was what class size advocates said it would cost to bring city class sizes in line with the state average.

“It would take a billion to make class sizes in New York City the same size as class sizes in the rest of New York State,” she said. “It would make us similar to the rest of the state, where class sizes are smaller and graduation rates are higher.”

Your thoughts? And can funding that aims to lower class sizes and hire more teachers lead to better school design?

California School Construction Funding: Terminator or Motivator? January 24th, 2007

If you’re involved in public school construction on any level in California, you’re fairly familiar with the way the state and local authorities ’split the costs’ for facility projects.

Well, if Governor Schwarzenegger has his way, this balanced funding relationship is on its way out:

Tucked deep in the budget plan he released earlier this month, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has proposed to dramatically change how public school construction is financed in California, shifting hundreds of millions — perhaps billions — of dollars in costs from the state to local government.

For almost a decade, the state and local districts have split the costs of building new schools 50-50. But the governor has proposed changing that formula to require that locals now cough up 60 percent of the costs.

Outcries are already mounting:

“It means either there is going to be fewer schools or the schools that are built will not have adequate facilities,” said Tom Duffy, legislative director for the Coalition for Adequate Student Housing, an umbrella group representing both schools and builders. “Districts are already not receiving the 50 percent they are promised and now you are saying you want to cut it back to 40 percent?”

We found this an interesting comment by the Governor that doesn’t quite match his new proposal:

“That small child with the sticky hands starting the first day in kindergarten is the foundation of California’s economic power and leadership,” he said.

If a state isn’t willing to fund the very creation and maintenance of the spaces that very kindergarten student goes to to learn, this offers a bit of irony if you’re really looking at the relationship between funding and foundations.

What do you think?

Libraries: The Front Line of Emerging Technologies & Participation? January 23rd, 2007

Fascinating discussion being held in libraries around the world. Especially anytime you see the phrase “Library 2.0″ uttered.

Take this article from District Administration magazine for example that picks up on the 2.0 “buzz” and asks how libraries — and schools (we smiled, of course) — are being re-imagined, re-invented, and re-purposed
:

With all the buzz about “Web 2.0 technologies” and the implications that new social Web tools such as Weblogs, wikis and the like have for education and information literacy, it’s no wonder that school libraries are suddenly on the front lines of change.

We greatly appreciated this series of questions:

  • But what exactly does a “School Library 2.0″ look like, and how does your library stack up? (No pun intended.)
  • Is your library a “24/7 digital workspace,” a “learning-centered laboratory,” and/or a “participatory, social, user-centered space”?

Background:

They are all descriptions that came from the recent School Library 2.0 Summit sponsored by School Library Journal. Libraries were also described as places where “librarians are connectors,” where there is a “community of trust emphasizing personal responsibility,” and a place for “interactive learning and collaboration with others.” In other words, today’s libraries are much different from how they were in the past.

Fascinating to hear the increasing focus on ‘interaction’ and ‘connectors’ rather than holding tight to the traditional bastion of quiet reading. It appears that the future of library design is a much more active/dynamic/discovery space than a tome for books and shelves.

Check out the article for examples of how the library is changing at a school near you!

Florida Campus Design: Why Build Out When the Sky Calls? January 22nd, 2007

We tend to believe that land comes first, then a 2nd or 3rd story when absolutely necessary. What if we reversed the idea and looked up first, rather than a larger foot print on the ground? Sounds like many urban school projects — think NYC for one — that do not grow weak at the knees when they have to teach students beyond the 3rd floor.

From Florida recently comes a new way of design-thinking based on saving construction costs. The ‘rest’ is yet to be determined:

Orange County school officials think they can stretch their $3.9 billion school-building budget by shrinking dozens of future schools.

But that plan could mean fewer parking spaces, no stadiums at new high schools, smaller campuses and taller buildings.

What does ’soar’ really mean? Is it simply an issue of relativity? And does a ’small’ learning community just mean less square footage but the same old educational program?

So officials are beginning to look at using smaller spaces efficiently. Herron cautioned, however, that building compact schools would not be the sole solution to Orange’s budget woes.

Plenty of factors — many of them mandatory — can still drive up costs, including state class-size restrictions, the need to create equivalent practice fields for male and female students and building parking garages, he said.

“It’s good, but to a point,” Herron said. “But we’ve got a lot of opportunity to try innovative things.”

That could include recommending that most schools rise taller — high schools could soar three stories or more.

If this simply grows out of a desire to save money and has no underlying design or learning heart driving it forward, then perhaps we may fail in the end in spite of what our cash flow statement reads.

What Does Your Principal Think of Their School Building and Campus? January 22nd, 2007

Thanks to Judy at NCEF for pointing our eyes/minds to this fascinating report entitled “Public School Principals Report on Their School Facilities, Fall 2005″ put out by the National Center for Educational Statistics. While a bit ‘dated’ in terms of the data collected (most research needs to use historical data that takes time to analyze well), the report is hot-hot-hot-off-the-presses (just released today!) and is a fantastic resource that not only offers a comprehensive analysis but also does so ‘in the voices’ of educational leaders.

Excerpt:

This report provides information about principals’ satisfaction with various environmental factors in their schools, and the extent to which they perceive those factors as interfering with the ability of the school to deliver instruction. The report also describes the extent of the match between the enrollment and the capacity of the school buildings, approaches for coping with overcrowding, the ways in which schools use portable (temporary) buildings and reasons for using them, and the availability of dedicated rooms or facilities for particular subjects (such as science labs or music rooms) and the extent to which these facilities are perceived to support instruction.

Major findings include:

More than half of the principals reported that their school had fewer students than the school’s design capacity: 21 percent said their school was underenrolled by more than 25 percent, and 38 percent said their school was underenrolled by between 6 and 25 percent. The remaining schools included those that had enrollments within 5 percent of their capacity (22 percent) and those that were overenrolled (10 percent were overenrolled by between 6 to 25 percent above their capacity, and 8 percent by more than 25 percent of their design capacity). Those schools that principals described as overcrowded used a variety of approaches to deal with the overcrowding: using portable classrooms (78 percent), converting non-classroom space into classrooms (53 percent), increasing class sizes (44 percent), building new permanent buildings or additions to existing buildings (35 percent), using off-site instructional facilities (5 percent), or other approaches (12 percent).

When Schools Go Chairless to Promote Healthy Students January 19th, 2007

Thanks to Judy at NCEF for this article link.

*****

While there is no official rule that a school needs chairs, the iconic value of the chair and desk makes it hard to imagine a learning environment without them.

Unless you are visiting Elton Hills Elementary School in Rochester, Minnesota where children not only are encouraged not to use chairs, but they are also:

…encouraged to stretch, stand, kneel, and even bounce.

Why?

The idea is to keep students on the move, make them comfortable while they learn, and motivate them to burn calories, fighting childhood obesity.

What most intrigues us is the underlying research principles that support a re-imagination of the physicality associated with classroom design and learning. Apparently, a relationship with the famed Mayo Clinic created a new set of health-based strategies supported by the “chairless classroom”:

James Levine, director of the Active Life research team at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, invented the first “chairless classroom.” It is outfitted with Apple laptops, video iPods, personalized whiteboards, adjustable podiums, and exercise balls in the place of chairs. Thirty students in the fourth and fifth grades are participating in the experiment.

Groups of students work on different activities during a single class. Some kids take a spelling test while walking, and others listen to an audio file of their teacher, Phil Rynearson, reading a book. While students learn, Levine measures how many calories the children burn, using sensors attached to their legs.

Needless to say, an intriguing blend of technology, creative teaching strategies, and looking for innovative ways to support healthy student development in mind and body.

NYCity: Can the Playground Be Designed to Teach Kids to Play? January 19th, 2007

We imagine that most of you have heard about the recent NYTimes article highlighting new trends in public playground design with a focus on ‘teaching’ kids how to play:

City officials unveiled plans last week for a new kind of playground, outfitted with ponds, pulleys and bulky foam blocks intended to engage the imagination, and “play workers” to help guide fantasy play….

The experiment, if it inspires other cities, would mark the first significant change in playground design in decades, since municipalities began replacing steel monkey bars and slides with the boxy, plastic equipment common in many urban areas today.

While we are struck curious about new designs, we more importantly appreciate the essential question tied to what it means to ‘teach’ a child to ‘play’ in the first place:

It already raises fundamental questions about childhood.

How much help do children need to do what should come naturally? And to what extent does expert guidance - embodied by the so-called play workers - represent adults’ expectations of children, rather than what the youngsters themselves want or need?

Which leads the article to ask whether a new design philosophy for playgrounds is focused on the kids…or the parents’ need for a particularly ‘guided’ way of play:

“My first impression is that this is more evidence that we don’t trust kids to play by themselves,” said Peter Stearns, provost of George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., and author of “Anxious Parents: A History of Modern Childrearing in America.” “And I think it’s fair to ask: Is this really for parents, to make them feel their kids are being properly guided while playing?”

In a day and age where play is a ‘value-added’ proposition for many schools getting rid of recess in lieu of test prep and concerns of injury liability and public nuisances, perhaps a change in cultural philosophy makes sense.

Or does it?

On the surface, a managed playground is a natural extension of a culture that increasingly parcels childhood into schedules. Many children in urban areas from Boston to Houston no longer run out the front door to find their friends; their parents make play dates instead. And youngsters who once might have played on a sandlot or a backyard ice rink now enter organized leagues by first grade.

Pickup games are still around, but they have migrated from the street to computers, where friends gather online at sites like Neopets and Club Penguin.

Cultural critics have warned of the dangers of replacing spontaneous play with organized activities since the 1930s, when the historian Johan Huizinga published his classic, “Homo Ludens,” about the importance of spontaneous and unstructured play to the health of societies.

Children chasing, creeping, diving into alleyways and bushes may look somehow suspect, even dangerous. But experts say the free-for-all has a point: children develop independent judgment, and a sense of risk, privacy and invention all their own when they create play worlds that exclude parents and other adults. Forcing a children’s game to have some goal, as many parents have the urge to do, in effect installs a hall monitor in the game room.

What do you think? Is play an imaginative free-for-all or something that design needs to dictate?

And what are the take-aways for the larger goals of designing learning environments against similar questions of what it means to be a life-long learner or to support the customized learning goals of each learner?

Note: related article by the NYTimes: “New York Tries to Think Outside the Sandbox” (1.10.07)

AIA 2006 Honor Award Winner: University of Iowa’s Art and Art History Building January 19th, 2007

Thanks to Kristin and ArchNewsNow for this article link.

*****

Seems that the AIA has awarded the new Stephen Holl designed Art and Art History building at the University of Iowa with the prestigious Honor Award this year
:

Against a backdrop of “look at me” campus architecture, Steven Holl’s new art and art history building at the University of Iowa is that rare thing: A strong design that overwhelms neither its site nor its users.

Dedicated last September and named a winner Friday of a national Honor Award from the American Institute of Architects, the $21.5 million building floats serenely over an old quarry pond next to a limestone bluff. It’s on the west side of the hilly Iowa campus, part of a not-so-graceful cluster of art buildings. But Holl’s design, achieved with associate architects Herbert Lewis Kruse Blunck of Des Moines, uplifts this mediocre ensemble. The reason: You appreciate the building by moving through it, not just looking at it

An interesting daylighting challenge:

While some of the students had quibbles, complaining that they must cover windows that look from corridors into the studios to protect nude models’ privacy, they appeared quite happy with the building.

Most importantly:

It’s isn’t just an object; it’s a place — precisely what campus architecture (actually, all architecture) should be.

US College Campus Design: To Icon or Not to Icon? January 19th, 2007

Thanks to Kristin and ArchNewsNow for this story link.

*****

Regardless of how much energy one puts into aligning the underlying learning goals of a college campus, many US universities are rushing into the land of the high-design architect to create landmark icons that happen to serve academic ends as well.

A recent Chicago Tribune article gives attention to this “To Icon or Not To Icon” debate on college campuses around the US:

With colleges and universities spending billions of dollars to upgrade facilities and attract students in a hypercompetitive academic marketplace, the pressure to produce iconic, “look at me” architecture is more intense than ever. Yet there is no guarantee that a sexy, signature building will successfully fuse form and function.

As the article asks, should Stephen Holl’s MIT residence hall be applauded for its world-renowned visual innovation or critiqued for the fact that it takes students 5 minutes to close the blinds in their dorm room?

And should campus leaders pick one over the other, or find a way to live within the ‘tension’ of the two extremes?

In each case, campus planners are acutely aware of the conflict between attention-getting forms and the prospect that such designs will turn out to be functional flops and isolated objects that fail to connect to their surroundings.

“We don’t want one of those at all,” said Alicia Berg, the former Chicago planning commissioner and now Columbia’s vice president of campus environment.

“I would say we’re trying to find a way to use that tension productively,” said David Thompson, the U. of C.’s associate dean for planning and programs in the humanities.

Your opinion?

Future-Proof Library Design: Stacks of Books vs. a Search-Engine Culture January 19th, 2007

The tradition of business, pop culture, and just about everything in society focused on the ‘head of the tail’, where the ‘hits’ or most popular ideas/solutions existed.

In today’s world of infinite information and infinite niche audiences, something profound is changing…and it forces us to consider the impact of the ‘long tail’ (consisting of many small niches into an aggregated whole) and what it might have to do with the future of school design.

One of the must-read business books on many shelves today is Chris Anderson’s The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More which grew out of a series of articles and presentations he created as Editor-in-Chief of Wired magazine. Along with Tom Friedman’s The World is Flat: A Brief History of the 21st Century and Daniel Pink’s A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future, we believe that there are vital ideas related to the aggregation of ‘long tail’ concepts and models that will not only have an impact on what we mean by education in the future, but obviously how we orient learning on campuses and in ’schools’, too.

One part of Anderson’s book that looks at a unique long tail concept is in his comparison of library design and organization. In essence, he asks us to consider the power of the Dewey Decimal System as an organizing and design principle vs. how it fits into today’s hyper-fast information gathering world within the Net:

“…the physical books were still stacked on the shelves according to the Dewey Decimal System. This meant that although you could now locate the book you wanted…, you might not find much relevance in the books stacked around it…books are still vulnerable to the physics of materiality.”

He continues to point us to the world of the Internet where books are often ‘tagged’ by keywords determined by a wide range of readers that break free from the traditions of the Dewey Decimal System, as well as allow them to be found outside of their physical limits.

What does this have to do with the design of libraries specifically or the general design of school environments in the future?

Anderson continues on by describing the design of the Seattle Public Library (by Rem Koolhaas’ OMA) to be a “model for the twenty-first century”:

“[Koolhaas] faced the challenge of making stacks of books fit into a search-engine culture. Realizing that the relative balance between computers and books was changing and would probably continue to change, Koolhaas didn’t make too many assumptions about how books should be shelved. He arranged the stacks on rails in a spiral, which could expand or contract as demand dictated.”

This part grabbed our attention in particular:

“A future-proof library makes no assumptions about he information landscape of tomorrow.”

Your thoughts: How do you design a library in a search-engine culture that is future-proof and flexible?

Edutopia: “Building the Global Best” Named as one of 5 Editor’s Picks January 19th, 2007

We were quite pleased to see recently that on the Edutopia home page that “Building the Global Best” article that highlighted the 2006 DesignShare Awards was called out as one of the “Top 5 Editors Picks”.

That says a lot about the quality of the design teams and school communities who share their projects with us each year.

New projects will be submitted this February for the 2007 Awards program. We can’t wait to see what comes in this year!

Multi-Touch Sensory Computing: Impact on the Design of Learning Spaces? January 19th, 2007

If you’re aware of the TED (Technology. Entertainment. Design.) Conference held once a year in California, you realize how difficult it is to get a ticket to this expensive but much-sought-after idea-sharing conference. Thankfully, you’re probably already aware that each of the idea-sparking presentations given by some of the most exciting innovators in the world is available by video for free.

We’ve talked about Sir Ken Robinson’s talk on creativity before
. Still highly recommend that for anyone really looking at the future of learning and how to design spaces that will support such.

We’d also like to point to Jeff Han’s TED video showcasing a wildly intuitive, interface-free, multi-touch sensory computing screen. See below for the video that you can play — approximately 9 minutes in total.

In his talk, he discusses the fact that technology should make physical boundaries and limits no longer valid, so that each learner receives a customized connection:

“NO reason we should conform to a physical device….These interfaces should start conforming to us.”

Clearly, there are take-away’s for the design of learning spaces, as well. Likewise, as we continue to think of the desktops and walls in our classrooms, as well as the very existence of computing labs, Jeff’s innovation invites to us to imagine the implications for our design solutions in the future. As well as what we mean by intuitive learning experiences.

And then begin to wonder how we’d respond when our clients ask us how to be ready.


UK: Is the Building Schools for the Future Programme Losing Steam? January 19th, 2007

Judy, thanks for pointing our attention to this evolving and potentially disheartening story from the UK school design world.

If you’ve been paying attention to the world of school design over the last few years, you’ve undoubtedly been keeping an eye on the UK-based “Building Schools for the Future” programme that has set out to repair, update, and modernize 3,500 secondary schools. Additionally, they’ve worked doggedly with high level designers to greatly re-imagine what a 21st century secondary school can be.

But it appears that trouble seems to be looming on the horizon now that government reports are being released:

Hundreds of thousands of pupils will be taught in dilapidated classrooms because the Government is abandoning its targets for a £45 billion schools rebuilding programme.

The plans, heralded by Gordon Brown in successive budget speeches, have become mired in red tape, forcing the Government to admit that three years after promising to rebuild all 3,500 secondary schools before 2020 not a single project has been completed. It expects to open just 14 of the 100 new schools it had planned to by the end of this year, according to official Department for Education and Skills figures, The Times has learnt.

A little history:

When it launched the programme in 2004, the Government promised to spend £3 billion a year rebuilding or refurbishing every secondary school in the country over the next 15 years, in what it said was the biggest schools investment programme in Britain ever. It said that the first 100 building contracts would be signed in 2006, and the first 100 new schools would open in 2007.

Clearly this will lead to more and more criticism, as well as disappointment:

Steve Sinnett, the general-secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said the mess was “absolutely unforgiveable” and that there was no doubt that it was affecting education. “We have a building stock that is not fit for purpose. Some schools are little better than slums,” he said.

Is the programme a unique and evolving failure, or is the realistic result of any national program that promises to radically alter the very platform of education and school design in spite of the obvious reality checks it will face within existing systems and governmental/social structures?

Or is the government’s response (rebuttal to the previous article) a more accurate assessment of how this will play out
?

Schools minister Jim Knight was forced to defend the government’s troubled schools rebuilding programme after it emerged that the scheme was years behind schedule. He assured teachers, pupils and parents that contrary to reports, the programme is on track and will be delivered.

“Let me be clear what we are doing with Building Schools for the Future. We inherited a school network that was crowded, crumbling and not fit for purpose. But this is not just about spending money. It is about improving the quality of education for all our children. It is an investment in our nation’s future. I make no apologies for making sure we get this right, because these schools must be built to last. The process of planning, financing, designing and building is complex and can’t be completed overnight - it will take time.”

American Federation of Teachers: “It’s time for the nation to commit itself to repairing its aging and deteriorating schools.” January 19th, 2007

No doubt that any article about school construction that begins this way will catch attention:

Stories of vermin, mold, asbestos, and water in classrooms have become all too common in the U.S., according to a report from the American Federation of Teachers. It’s time for the nation to commit itself to repairing its aging and deteriorating schools.

What is striking is the source that is calling for action. Not shocking, but striking. And most importantly, they are publishing key research to demand increased attention around the reality of the school buildings in many US communities:

These are conditions reported by more than 1,000 U.S. school employees to a survey on the physical environment at their schools conducted by the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). The responses, which came from urban, rural, and suburban teachers, are part of the AFT report, Building Minds, Minding Buildings: Turning Crumbling Schools into Environments for Learning.

Definitely worth a look:

In the report, the AFT said that repairing the deplorable conditions in many U.S. public schools should be a national priority. Problems such as mold, poor air quality, fluctuating temperatures and other factors lead to more illnesses among students and staff members, higher absenteeism, and make it more difficult for children to learn, according to the report.

Now this part definitely grabbed our attention:

“This is a health issue, a safety issue and an educational issue,” said Antonia Cortese, AFT executive vice president, in an AFT press release. “In the world’s richest nation, every child is entitled to learn in clean, well-maintained classrooms. As we try to build young minds, we also have to mind school buildings.”

Your opinion: can the ATF make a difference?

Maryland Governor Seeks to Reduce “Temporary Learning Shacks” January 19th, 2007

With a proposed $400 million on the line, the Governor of Maryland is seeking to dramatically reduce the number of what he calls “temporary learning shacks.” Not that anyone hasn’t seen discussions of mobile classrooms arise in their community or state, but when the governor calls them “shacks” the political game has just risen a degree or two.

Do you think that a change in language can spur a change in funding, design, and construction? Or is this just political posturing by a newly elected governor around a subject that will have more supporters than detractors, but no guarantees of success? Or is this a vital change in a must-watched state?

No givens, however:

O’Malley’s announcement on school construction was not a foregone conclusion, given a tough budget year ahead and recent warnings that he might not be able to fully fund his education priorities in his first year.

Ohio: Does Proposed State Ammendment Have Potential Impact for School Construction Funding? January 19th, 2007

A unique development in one state or something that will be seen nation-wide in the near future?

Out of Ohio, “the Alliance for Adequate School Funding announced a proposed state constitutional amendment to remedy the property tax burden on homeowners in high valuation school districts.”

What are the implications for school construction and renovation?

MIT’s Simmons Hall: Student Opinions of “The Sponge” Dorm Design January 9th, 2007

This is hardly the first (a small understatement) link to Holl’s infamous Simmons Hall dormitory design at MIT, otherwise known as “The Sponge” by students. But we were intrigued by the student perspective of what made them want to liver there, what frustrated them, and how they ultimately ‘made piece’ with the unique design constraints of this celebrity of a building.

From the very well written “Sponge Life” (and the MIT Technology Review), a few things that caught our attention:

Compelling Draw:

This year’s new students had plenty of reasons for choosing the dorm that’s also called the Space Waffle: a love of modern architecture, carpet allergies (it’s nearly carpetless), a sense of adventure. “I first heard Simmons described as ‘the giant metal thing that looks like it’s going to eat the football field,’” says freshman Katrina Ellison. “[But] by the time I got to campus, I was excited about the prospect of living there.”

Love and More Hate Relationship:

Still, Ellison did a double take when she saw the geometry of her ninth-floor room: a curving wall from the adjacent lounge took up half her floor space. She and her roommate measured the walls to try to “squeeze in a chair or something,” she says. Instead, her bed got shoved wall-ward, and Ellison now performs a nightly acrobatics routine to reach it. “I have to crawl into it from the end,” she says. “For the first few days, I really hated it.”

Creative Students Tackle Unusual Space Layouts:

Other freshmen strove to achieve pleasing configurations of their furniture. The pieces, all designed by Holl, include beds and drawers that stack like Lego bricks–or would, if they weren’t too heavy to lift. Movers hired by MIT helped freshmen settle in; eventually an underground trade developed in wrenches to unbolt the furniture. Senior Aron Zingman doled them out with a warning: “The beds weigh 250 pounds. You can get crushed to death by them.” Many freshmen made their first handful of friends while hoisting beds.

Making Lemonade Out of Lemons and Dreaming Big:

Ratti understands that the function of a dorm is more important to most students than its form. So when Simmons housemasters Ellen and John Essigmann asked him to design some functional improvements for the building in 2004, he got the idea to launch a student contest called “Drill a Hole in Simmons Hall.” Students’ sketches envisioned chalkboards in the hallways and paint for the mono-color walls. The winning design poked outright fun at Holl. It suggested erecting a second Simmons, a “diversional clone,” across Vassar Street for admiring architects to tour. In the spirit of the impractical, it called for a cloud-shaped zeppelin to fly over Simmons to shuttle students to class. One contest judge, Canadian Center for Architecture (CCA) director Mirko Zardini, was so impressed with the intelligence (and humor) of the entries that he showcased the design boards in a CCA exhibit on Simmons this fall.

To learn more about the “Drill a Hole in Simmons Hall” contest, try this link.

Contest for College Students: What Should the High-Tech Dorm Room of the Future Look Like? January 9th, 2007

In addition to fulfilling the human need for shelter and social companionship, the college dorm room is also a key part of a university’s ‘brand’ in the ever-increasing marketing wars to capture the competitive enrollment numbers that allow campuses
to continue to grow and thrive.

With that in mind, if you were working with a group of higher education facility/campus leaders, trying to wrestle with the expectations and needs for future college students, here are a few questions for you:

  • What do you think is a bare-bones requirement for the dorm room of the future?
  • What will set your dormitory spaces and experience apart from the other colleges/universities your applicants are considering?
  • Just how hi-tech should your default design specs be to respond adequately to the future?

It might be worth reading a recent piece by eSchool News that looks at this very concept through the eyes of a company sponsoring a very intriguing contest for college students. “Digital College Dorm Rooms of the Future: High School & College Students Weigh In On What Dorms Should Look Like in 2020″ offers the following (for starters):

No Creative Limits:

“We want to bring back the notion that American colleges and high schools are important breeding grounds of technological innovation and cultural creativity,” says Spencer Sakata, Gradware’s 31-year old CEO at the company’s D.C. office. “This is a chance for creative, forward-thinking students to brainstorm the coolest gadgets they can think of. No rules, no limits–we’re really looking for some crazy ideas here& Technology can be very cool when it enhances campus life.”

The related contest for college students:

The 2007 Gradware National College Essay Scholarship: “The Digital Dorm Room of the Future” is open to all undergraduates and college-bound high school juniors and seniors in the U.S. The scholarship contest details are available on the Gradware website from now to the competition deadline, March 16th, 2007.

There are no need-based or GPA requirements to enter. Multiple scholarship awards: $1,000, $500, $250. Essay applicants must be 28 or under on the scholarship deadline: March. 16th, 2007. Students must submit an essay no longer than 750 words describing the digital dorm room in the year 2020, and what campus life should be like with the power of emerging and future (not yet invented) technologies.

To enter, visit the 2007 Gradware Scholarship page for full application details.

So, what do you think will make the college dorm room of the future truly innovative and high-tech enough for your campus’ future applicants?

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