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Empowering Learning Through Natural, Human, and Building Ecologies
 

Robert J. Kobet, AIA

Macosky Center

Introduction by Randall Fielding
Most of us think of nature when we think of ecology. But ecology is about more than wind, rain, the sun, and the apple tree. Ecology is about systems of relationships. Fritjof Capra, physicist and ecological philosopher, describes it as “the principle underlying all subjects.”

Architect and educator Robert Kobet helps us get our arms around this broad subject by identifying three systems of ecology: building ecology, natural ecology, and human ecology. In order to understand high performance schools, we need to understand the interrelationships between these three systems of ecology.

The Interdistrict Downtown School in Minneapolis, Minnesota, illustrates the impact of a school’s human/community relationships on the ecological footprint of a building. At the Interdistrict School, gym classes are conducted every day at the YMCA, which students access via the public skyway system. The result is a smaller building and strengthened school/community relationships. The energy that would be consumed and waste generated by a dedicated school gym involves building ecology. The experience that students gain in sharing a facility with the rest of the city involves human ecology (for details, see Interdistrict School).

Cragmont Elementary School in Berkeley, California, illustrates the impact of natural ecology on both human and building ecology. Classrooms, perched on hill, are connected to the community through large windows and balconies. The landscape is a teaching environment (student plantings, native plants, community garden). A large plaza allows for outdoor teaching (mixed classes, outdoor nature classes). Special Education teachers reported a marked improvement in the attention span of students with attention deficit disorder (ADD), due to the calming effects of views and light. Standardized test scores in the student body improved by 38 percentile points one year after moving in to the new facility (for more details, see Cragmont).

For every hopeful example like the ones offered above, there are many more examples of school construction that are contributing rapidly to the withering of our natural environment. Kobet writes that we are in “a race between education and disaster.” Fortunately, he offers practical ideas for integrating environmental education and architecture, including:

    . School gardens that contribute directly to the lunch program, culinary classes, and biology courses.
    . Computer networks that enable students in a cluster to monitor energy flows in real time.
    . Exterior shading devices adjusted by by students in response to seasonal changes.
    Waste management, composting, and recycling program run by students

Since Rachel Carson’s 1962 Silent Spring, we’ve had numerous wake up calls about the natural environment. 40 years later, Robert Kobet’s article provides another call to action, directed to the school planning community.

“If we are to win the race between education and disaster, it is time we revise the current education paradigm to include a greater awareness and knowledge of the all of the environments we create. It is the only way we can preserve the one that sustains us.”
-Robert Kobet

This article is intended to serve as a starting point for DesignShare’s soon-to-be launched High Performance Schools Forum, moderated by Bob Kobet.

March 2nd, 2006
 

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