Susan J. Wolff, Ed. D.
Susan is the Director of Wolff Designs and focuses primarily on educational and facilities planning. In addition to serving on this review team, she was a jury member for the Washington State CEFPI architectural awards and co-chaired the highly successful AIA CAE spring conference in Portland, Oregon.
Imagine, an international school design award process beginning with socks! I will explain this further in a moment. The fifth, international DesignShare Awards program, co-sponsored by School Construction News and the C/S Group continued its lively discussion focused on the meaning of innovation for school design that includes Pre-K through higher education and other entities who provide learning experiences. The review is based upon nine (9) key principles, grouped into three categories with supporting criteria. The principles are about learning, process and community, and resources, context, and space. Sixty-three (63) projects from 11 countries were reviewed by a 15-member international team of school planning and design experts from eight countries.
The DesignShare Award program is unique in many ways, one being that it focuses first on learning, second the learners, and then moves into how the built or natural environment provides rich learning opportunities. The uniqueness continues with the review process being virtual and conducted entirely via the web. Karl Jones from DesignShare has created a complex, yet easy to use interface that includes the architects and educators narratives, facility data, products, plan diagram, and image summary from which we review, send comments to one another, and rate the projects — all anonymously. Names of projects, designers, planners, and architects are withheld until after the ratings have been completed. The DesignShare Awards are all about promoting exemplary ideas in planning and designing, and sharing full project information globally to educators, planners, designers, architects, and community members.
Back to the socks! To become acquainted, virtually, Randy Fielding asked the reviewers to throw a pair of rolled up socks to one another as we answered the following three questions:
1) what is the most important idea in your work,
2) what is your favorite activity, and
3) where is your favorite place?
Answers for number one included innovation, passion, curiosity, freedom to design in ways that are not oppressive to the learner, paying attention, being present, and being observant. Traveling (meeting new people and seeking common human qualities that transcend boundaries) and outdoor activities topped the list for favorite activities. Sitting in a grandparent’s rocking chair, and being at a family cottage are pieces of memories and dreamscapes, riding trains as a means of experiencing time, and thinking through things like, “my favorite place is the place of place” were favorite places. In transcending the boundaries, one reviewer said the most important idea in his work was freedom and the necessity to take school design out of the realm of power, control, authority, dominance and move into the very real world of the learner so they may realize their full creativity and spirit. We even learned that a couple of us are grandparents!
“Both body and mind should not be closed up in a box” explains the writer of the project narrative for Tajimi Junior High School, Japan, one of the honor award recipients for 2004. Tajimi was designed to live with nature, be a place for living and activity for the learners, provide spiritual and physical freedom, and be able to grow and change. With those goals in mind, the principal wrote, ” the building is fundamentally different from other schools. The rooftops and verandas, places usually prohibited to students, are designed with intentions for student activities. There are places where staff may overlook. Yet, we intend to trust them [the students] and to not tighten the restrictions.” Visitors note the bright expressions on the faces of the learners. Students wrote that their school is full of “green” and rather than seeing hallways and walls when moving from one space to another, they see flowers and trees.” Victoria Bergsagel wrote “your design of multipurpose and flexible space connected to the natural landscape is commendable, as is your design of indoor-outdoor space, use of alcoves and celebration of light.”
“Who said a corridor with spaces on both sides was bad?” asked Rodolfo Almeida. He went on to say that High Tech Middle School, San Diego, California, another honor award recipient, is a good example of what can be achieved with a central corridor, that becomes something else. His comments were echoed by many of the reviewers. John Mayfield described the project’s strengths as the seamless transition between formal and informal. “There is much to admire about the approach and outcomes of the project and the integration of areas that allow for various interactions amongst students and teachers,” wrote Peter Jamieson. According to Susan Stuebing, “the power of this project is its strong concept that was well executed.”
A combined middle and high school campus, Compass Montessori Secondary School, based upon the Montessori and Erdkinder concepts, was a unique project that received a merit award. “Woven into the fabric of its locale, this project oozes character” is how Victoria Bergsagel described the project.
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