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Awards Commentary 2004
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The reviewers this year continued recognition of projects that are not “traditional” schools. Prakash Nair said, “Once again a non-school project with all the features I would love to see in so-called regular schools.” The Edisto Beach Interpretive Center in South Carolina is a joint project with the South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation, and Tourism with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources to develop a “public teaching laboratory.” Gavriela Nussbaum calls this a “real natural laboratory” and Susan Stuebing says, “this is a beautiful and inspiring building.” Susan Wolff went on to express “I would hope some day we can get to the point when we no longer have to think of non-classroom space” as the exception, and they become the norm.”

A high school based on Hip-hop music? A learning facility with individual student desks and spaces crafted from corrugated metal? A place that is about “at-risk kids, is project-based, about real world learning, and hip-hop?” Hip-hop High (High School for Recording Arts) operates with a professional music production studio in which learners split their time between individual learning in academic areas, instruction in critical areas of the music industry, and time spent developing and mastering production and performance skills. Academics must be mastered each day before the learners may use the recording studios. The educator narrative notes, “this skill based learning method measures students’ competence rather than time spent in a classroom.” John Mayfield wrote that “both the project and educational narratives are powerful statements and the action bears out the words. A really great learning environment.” Susan Wolff continued with her description, “I cannot find enough words to describe the emotions that are conveyed through your complete belief of the talents and abilities of these young people, many who would be considered “less than.” “This place speaks volumes.”

Renovation of an existing facility brought a merit award to Keane Children’s Center/Charlestown Boys and Girls Club. Prakash Nair wrote, “anybody who thinks about getting rid of older buildings because they cannot be configured to serve today’s learning needs should see the loving way in which this building has been restored. The spaces are functional yet aesthetic and very unschool-like in almost everything it does.”

Planning process as “educator” and design as “cultural educator” were at the heart of the Djidi Djidi Aboriginal School in Australia. Prakash Nair felt “this was a great project all around and that almost all the principles of good school design are embodied here.” John Mayfield appreciated the inclusiveness of the process, saying, “an important response to the need to include all learners in the planning, indigenous, non-indigenous, children, and adults” while Victoria commented about the culturally sensitive aspect to the planning process.

Each year, a philosophical underpinning develops from the reviewers as they write their comments and questions during the review stage. This year, the focus tended towards the emotional, sociological, psychological, and physiological needs of learners in addition to attention paid to sustainable, green environments. The above needs were reflected in terms of scale, color, warmth, stimulation, respect of culture and learners, inclusion of the environment by either bringing the outdoors “in” or linking directly to outside spaces, and sustainable practices. Peter Jamieson, an educator, also reflected the careful attention paid to the learning process. He said, “as a teacher, I appreciate the genuine attempt to tackle what I think is the biggest challenge for educational architects, and educators. That is, providing spaces that enable the users to inhabit them as they need and prefer to.” Reviewers also continued to seek evidence of community involvement in the planning process and in the use of the facilities.

Continuing debate of rating projects still in the concept phase with those already built invites the innovation that we seek. A topic that begets more emotion is the inclusion of projects that a reviewer has either submitted or participated in the planning or design process. Through the use of alias designations for all projects and the prevention of reviewers seeing or commenting on the projects in which they were involved, these projects go through the same review and rating process. This year, nine of the 63 projects had reviewer involvement. The discussion continues as to the perception that the award process may be seen as “suspect” by including reviewer projects. The reviewer projects will not be rated this year, but rather receive a designated award for planning.

Going back to our sock drawer, the bright socks, that may not always be paired but provoke thinking and dialogue, include transparency, flexible technology, hands-on learning, inquiry-based discovery, rigor, authenticity, sustainability, warmth, and inviting. As John Mayfield and Rodolfo Almeida reflected, the reviewers seemed to want to rediscover the village, the connections between people and the sense of belonging to something personal and worthwhile in this materialistic and all too unequal world. After all, we were challenged by our colleague Bruce Jilk to think in terms of being post-rational, pragmatic, surreal, and mystical.

Submitted by:
Susan J. Wolff, Ed. D.
Wolff Designs

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