Part 2 - Heinavaara School, Urban “Have-not” Schools, Future of the Classroom
Randall Fielding: The Heinavaara Elementary School in Finland is one of the most notable projects you have constructed since the School of Environmental Studies (SES) in Minnesota. How have your ideas evolved between the two projects?
Bruce Jilk: The School of Environmental Studies is an optional public suburban high school for 400 students and was designed seven years ago in collaboration with HGA, Inc. Heinavaara is a 190-student public elementary school in Finland north of Helsinki, near the Russian border. It was designed two years ago in collaboration with the Cuningham Group.
Heinavaara works at several levels. First of all it is designed to support the children’s learning experiences. This is done by organizing the spaces to enhance the connections amongst children and their cognitive, social, emotional, physical and other developmental experiences. Next, it works as part of the community’s economic development. By developing new (to Finland) construction methods in wood while educating the local construction industry, the project positioned the community to be leaders in future endeavors in Finland and Russia. Next the project serves as a community center. This is true in both its functional and symbolic aspects. Finally the design is embedded with meaning for a larger society. Learning takes place in the community, so community issues impact the school (Bingler 1999). But the context for the community is the larger society so we need to understand this as well. Next the context for society is our civilization. (Click for Heinavaara Program and floor plan)
Q Jeffery Lackney: How do we address the problem of improving the quality of learning settings in have-not schools in both urban and rural areas that will not be direct recipients of the Watershed in the next 10 years?
William DeJong: This is one of my most passionate topics, haves and have nots. I do believe that 2000 to 2010 will be the watershed decade for urban schools, assuming the economy holds up. Approximately one third of all students (approx. 17 million) attend schools in the largest 200 of the 15,800 school districts in the United States. Between 1975 and 1995 most urban school districts did not adequately maintain school facilities and most did not build a single new school or fully renovate a building. As a result there is a huge pent-up demand in urban districts. For the past quarter century there was not the political will to address the needs of urban districts. The power had shifted from the cities to the suburbs. For the past quarter century there has been constant criticism of urban schools. As a society we have become more polarized economically (rich and poor, loss of the middle class) and we have become more racially segregated. Across the board there is recognition that something needs to be done to improve the urban schools. Part of this response has been the charter schools. Part of this will be the rebuilding of the public schools. Personally I believe urban schools will eventually evolve into a series of independent schools, actually much like the Dutch system. But until that happens, assuming a continued positive economy, the recognition of the need being so great, urban schools are shaping up to become the priority of this decade.
I believe the concept that is being used in Minnesota is the way to go (due to declining enrollment, the state is emphasizing joint/community use of facilities to save costs).
In many rural communities, the definition of a successful student is a student that graduates from high school, moves away for college and never returns. This is a problem not only in developed countries but also a major problem in developing countries. It’s ironic that middle-aged suburbanites have a fantasy of moving to the country while kids in the country are eager to move to the city. The bottom line: joint use of facilities, but we need to further examine how economic development fits in.
Q William Brenner: What will happen to the classroom in the coming years? What will schools look like?
Bruce Jilk: Will we still have classrooms? A common place where a common group of people desires to engage in a common way with a common subject at a common time will be justification for the classroom. However as we embrace lifelong learning where anybody can learn anything, anyway, at anytime and anyplace, there will be a diminished need for classrooms. The educational philosophies of Perennialism and Essentialism (which rely on lectures) are deeply imbedded in our concepts of education. They grew with our current cultural view starting about 2000 BC. However, as we shift into a knowledge society these concepts will lose their cultural grounding, my best guess is that the classroom as the primary place of learning will shift to a secondary place of learning between 2020 and 2030. This is a concern when the life expectancy of new schools is around 70 years.
In the very near future we will see the design of classrooms flourish like never before. This is driven by a basic feature of human nature. It is a form of “irrational exuberance.” It is similar to the response people have knowing someone will die; you want to show your deepest caring. Or, in some cases, a married couple, knowing the marriage is not going well, will try to save it by exchanging extraordinary gifts. In K-12 schools this is being played out by pretending classrooms are the center of the universe. This phase will retract in 10 years. In higher education, campuses are desperate to survive as seen by the flourish of “signature” architecture. Think of these buildings as tombstones.
The question “what will schools look like in the future” is probably the most common and misunderstood aspect of what I have been working on. We talk about what is the best school design, we have conferences to discuss our ideas and we give awards to those that fit our preconceptions. If we could only solve this problem, all would be fine! In our effort to simplify things we begin to think as if one size fits all. Most people will say they do not think this way, however the pattern is in fact there. Prototype schools are an example of this carried to the extreme. In the future, the traditional school will not be replaced by a new, better design. Rather, we are developing options to the traditional school. It was these options (alternatives) that are innovative that we focused on in Amsterdam. In the future we will continue to have traditional schools (but less of them), optional schools that are similar to traditional schools (often the case in the expansion of parochial schools) and innovative alternatives. As to what they will look like, it is safe to say that virtually any future design concept exists today, in some form, somewhere on this earth.
William DeJong: The box. You’re right, we are not likely to get rid of it soon, but it is going to go. But it won’t go until we get rid of the organizational structure as we know it today. Even if the teacher is no longer the dispenser of information and we embrace more student centered approaches, more hands-on learning, as long as we have 20-25 students to a teacher we will have 900 square foot boxes and lots of them. Until we embrace differentiated or alternative staffing and organizational approaches we will be stuck in the box.
Is there a need for the box? Yes, we all have them; we call them large conference rooms. But we all need an office, the ability to collaborate in teams, a lap top computer, a place to workout and a coffeepot. Kids are no different.We are warehousing kids because we haven’t been able to come up with a better way to supervise them (along with a lot of other issues) so we try to do all of these things within the box.
We all know the student’s classroom is his/her environment. It is the home, the kitchen table, the bedroom, the library, the recreation center, the street, the church, the car, the park, the radio, the TV — wherever the student learns.
Then there is the classroom, the 900 sq. foot box. Furniture will be come more flexible, moveable, comfortable and durable. Technology will be ever present. We’ll be able to create individual, small group and total group spaces. Lots of natural light and artificial lighting will be better; more attention will be paid to air quality. We’ll have the ability to collaborate with the box next door and other boxes within the same area of the building. Occasionally students will even be permitted to go outside the box to another box of comparable size that has more specialized tools.
School will look like a cross between a home, an office building, a video arcade, a library, a fitness center and a food court all integrated. Students will have a sense of belonging; they will have their own offices and project areas. They will have clear objectives and a sense of accomplishment. They will be doing meaningful work in inviting environments. This multiple use of facilities and the multiple approaches to learning will necessitate diverse sizes of learning environments.
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April 3rd, 2006