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Awards 2006 Commentary

2006 Design Awards Commentary

2006 Honor Winners (clockwise from upper left): Nus High School of Mathematics & Science (Singapore); Kindergarten #911 (Argentina); Feather River Academy (California, US); Chugach Optional Elementary School (Alaska, US)

The seventh international DesignShare Awards program has once again established a vibrant discussion focused on the future of innovative school design projects.

The 2006 winning projects recognize four Honor, nine Merit, fifteen Citation, and twelve Recognized Value Awards. These Awards winners were selected from project submittals originating from 11 countries around the globe (including Argentina, China, Iceland, Germany, Canada, Iran, Singapore, Australia, Israel, India, and Mexico) and 16 different states in the US.

Project team applicants are asked to answer two questions with each submission:

1. What exemplary ideas do the designs contain that enhance learning?

2. What innovations in the planning, programming and design process supported the realization of those exemplary ideas?

At its core, the Awards program remains focused on projects designed for the future of learning which serve communities around the world.

Emerging Design Themes:

This year, eight distinct design themes emerged, extending beyond the type of building (elementary vs. university) and setting (rural vs. urban) by speaking to deeper community and learning needs. Each of these themes arose throughout what our team reviewed, read, discovered, and debated within a remarkably diverse range of international projects. Highlights include:

1. Designing for Small Learning Communities
2. Designing for Many Layers of Community
3. Designing for Sustainability and Constant Renewal
4. Designing for Learning Outcomes focused on the Future
5. Designing for Radical Flexibility
6. Designing for Movement and Collaboration
7. Designing for Evolving Building Projects
8. Designing for Openness and Transparency

2006 HONOR AWARD winning projects:

Kindergarten #911

Location: Moreno, Argentina
Designer: Ines Bajcura-Ana
Ages: Grades 3-5
Population: 100 students
Completion: November, 1994.

“I could not resist commenting, ‘Only in Argentina!’ This building is clearly a wonderful place for children to begin their education.”

- Henry Sanoff


The project designer’s initial premise grew out of a belief that children learn by playing both with and within a building’s spaces. Exploration of the building’s interior and exterior forms allow young children to discover evolving textures, corners, and spaces on a regular basis. Furthermore, the designer and community committed to the principle that the building should be created at child scale. All windows are at child’s height to reinforce a connection between inside and outside in a way that is easily accessible by each young student.

The building’s story-book quality should inspire imagination at all opportunities was echoed by the designer’s narrative many times over. Kindergarten #911 was designed with curved forms to nurture the children’s imagination in a way that breaks with traditional school design rules. Each classroom was created in an irregular form which allows a path of classrooms to circle around an outdoor patio. A small cupola (vaulted niche) provides access to the rooms and a space for kids to safely enter the community spaces. This is echoed by a welcoming entry for the entire school that is described as a sculpture portal.

Internally, the ceilings were designed with a sense of movement and are full of skylights. A small amphitheater is used at story-telling time. The ceiling here is lower so that it can used for hanging mobiles and toys. The central column, which is structured like a ‘tree’, becomes a corner of Science that is complete with built-in storage and display areas. Playing off of a sense of play and imagination even further, the designer spoke of bottles and jars with lids being embedded in the walls so that the sun reflects through the glass with different lights. Taking the reflection concept a step further, all floors are tiled with ceramic and colored mirrors to help children accidentally discover new forms and views.

Overall, this project speaks to the depth of a designer connecting with the joy of childhood and discovery.

Review Team Comments:

Pablo Campos was exuberant in his comments about this Kindergarten project: “The best thing about this school is that it doesn’t look like one. It is non-institutional and cheerful. A good place for children.” Ulla Kjærvang’s description remarked that “it is a place calling for children’s curiosity and invitation to study. I like the scale for children and the playing with curves, different light and materials. It’s a place calling for children’s curiosity and invites them to study.” Pablo went on to say, “It sometimes happens that we architects are able to find small jewels in the vast landscape of educational architecture. Good principles may come through economically modest constructions, but that can contain excellent lessons in excellence.” Comparing the design to that of Gaudi, Frank Locker described the project as “work that is sincere, honest, and passionate. An inspirational example of how constraints and vision lead to excellence.”

Chugach Optional Elementary School

Location: Anchorage, Alaska, US.
Design Team: McCool Carlson Green Architects
Ages: Grades K-6
Population: 250 students
Completion: August, 2005.

“Kudos to the educators who had a 1970’s open plan, and didn’t rush to throw it away in favor of ‘cells and bells’. This school represents the thoughtful evolution from the ‘open plan’ to the ‘collaborative plan’.

– Frank Locker


Chugach Optional Elementary School is a dynamic example of re-visiting the open-school plans of years past while re-imagining them in a 21st century renovation.

The original school was constructed in the 1970’s in response to an educational philosophy that stressed individual learning, student interaction and a fluid style of curriculum delivery generally referred to as open concept. The designers spoke of balancing open and closed spaces in the renovation. Their goal was to simultaneously create an environment that encourages interaction while respecting boundaries. A transformation of the original plan – shifting from a narrow dual hallway scheme to a central ‘Learning Street’ — underlies the overall renovation project. Furthermore, open, L-shaped classrooms provide a variety of learning spaces while remaining open for collaboration, team teaching and multi-class projects. Informal learning spaces exist throughout the school; nooks, crannies, and window seats create cozy spaces for students to read, work and study, celebrating the flexible school curriculum.

The school’s educators remarked that the unique school provides an enthusiastic, dynamic learning environment that capitalizes on the innate curiosity of children. The school staff generates and sustains a strong sense of community while planning and preparing theme-based experiential curricula. Furthermore, the open nature of the design allows them to strive to develop a warm nurturing family atmosphere that promotes openness, trust, acceptance, responsibility, self-evaluation and self-discipline. Community members flow freely from one space to another without the barrier of doorways.

All in all, the review team found itself struck by vibrant and appropriately re-imagined spaces that speak to the future of learning rather than the design of the past.

Review Team Comments:

Several members of the review team remarked that from what one can see in the pictures and the narratives, this school seems to have ‘got it’. They focused on the creation of a caring, cheerful and inspiring place for children and succeeded admirably. Jeff Lackney stated, “I think the design was faithful to developing the existing open plan concept and supporting the school’s curriculum. Its always good to see an open plan that has been properly modified so the baby wasn’t thrown out with the bathwater as we did to so many open plans in the 1970s. I really like the window seats the best and the views from the library. I could see cozying up with a book and enjoying the spectaular view. That is probably the coolest space in the school to be in.” Following up, Amy Yurko offered: “The strategic placement of the library and administration additions add character, scale and “curb-appeal”. On the inside, there us a masterful blend of “private” enclosed space and “public” open areas. The color, artwork and tree-theme contribute to the playful and age-appropriate atmosphere. Natural daylight, critical in this part of the world, is well integrated into all classrooms.”

Nus High School of Mathematics and Science

Location: Singapore
Design Team: CPG Consultants Pte Ltd
Ages: Grades 6-12.
Population: 1200 students.
Completion: December 2005.

“This project was an inspiration. As a new student to this school or even a returning student, how fun to discover the metaphors and perhaps even be surprised how they change as the level of knowledge and understanding is deepened. Can you imagine how fun it would be to teach in this school?”

– Susan Wolff


This 1200-student high school is a first-of-its-kind high school in Singapore to be both developed and managed by a university.

The designers were challenged to provide a stimulating environment for students with special aptitude in mathematics and science. This project marks a critical milestone in the development of schools in Singapore as it transcends beyond just the physical design of a school campus; it is about setting a new paradigm, an inspiration for a new era of learning.

From the educator and design narratives, every space within the school speaks a passion for learning. The review team was most intrigued by the ability for the project to translate conceptual academic ideas into tangible building/campus elements. Ideas include extracting the dynamic form of a double helix from the structure of DNA, and interpreting it into the form of an abstracted ‘nano tube stairway’ at the entry lobby. The main entrance was designed as an abstract version of the periodic table, with different parts of the elevation relating to different groups of elements. The “Pi Wall” defines the edge of the main concourse facing the track and field. It is derived from the mathematical concept of Pi, and consists of a mosaic of rectangular perforated aluminum panels that are translated into the decimal digits of Pi through a number-coded color system. Furthermore, the Eco-Learning Trail allows students to learn about natural habitats and natural processes. It meanders its way through the courtyards in-between teaching blocks, along the main concourse. The aquatic and eco systems, flora and fauna provide students with real life examples, enriching their total learning experience.

Clearly Singapore can speak proudly of a learning environment that pushes the envelope in terms of the 3D textbook.

Review Team Comments:

“This project is not on my list to review, but I love it. This demonstrates some of the most creative design of 3D teaching and learning,” offered Bobbie Hill. Following up on the building-as-teacher concept, Henry Sanoff raved, saying that “this is one of my favorites. The 3d textbook qualities are great. I think it is an inspiring project that shows some of the new path in design for future learning environments. Bravo to the architect for the intelligent application of metaphor. I suspect a rule book would need to accompany the building to explain the metaphors to the students. None-the-less, this is a thoughtful consideration of all the pieces that make up the building.” Finally, Ulla Kjærvang offered: “The architecture itself can be learning tools and this is a good example with Pi-wall, Nano-tube Stairwell and DNA Ceiling. It is a great place for learning with god connection inside and outside, nice courtyards and rooms and places for socialising. An inspiring place.”

Feather River Academy

Location: Yuba City, CA (US)
Design Team: Architecture for Education Incorporated
Ages: Grades 712.
Population: 234 students.
Completion: 2006.

“Imagine a district/community that had not built a new school for three decades and choosing ‘kids at risk’ as their shining example for what a 21st century learning environment could be.”

– Review Team


Feather River Academy speaks boldly about the power of a school’s mission driving design decisions.

The educational team saw the opportunity to build a new community school for expelled and at-risk youth as a golden opportunity to design an environment that would hopefully encourage and foster the students’ return to high school and completion of a diploma. As a school for at-risk youth, it was important the students felt connected to their school. The project team immediately felt connected to the challenge to facilitate a comfortable learning atmosphere for a unique group of kids. The collaborative process resonated within the educator and designer narratives as they conveyed reflections. They began the planning process by involving students from the school in interactive workshops that employed toy-like building blocks representing programmatic components and site amenities. Using these blocks, they explored ideas about scale, adjacencies, interior and exterior, and master planning. The students stated they didn’t want old school, which was described as a red brick building with little windows and white trim. They wanted their new school to express contemporary times.

The design team learned the value of including a greater number of younger students in the process as well. The lesson they learned is that teachers and students, involved in the development of the design, are the best people to convey its potential. Because students, staff, and community were part of a comprehensive education specification planning process, the school has met or exceeded the educational, community, and environmental needs of Sutter County. The school has been open for nearly one year and is nearing student capacity. The flexibility of design and room layout will allow for an additional 25% growth.

For the review team, the school’s young community managed to be both the recipient of great design and the creators of it.

Review Team Comments:

“The interiors of this project are right on,” said Jeff Lackney. “DesignShare awards are about good ideas, and this project has plenty of them! There are aspects of this project, such as the school’s mission, the workshop feeling of what we used to call classrooms, and the connections of indoor to outdoor spaces, that combine to tell a story that we need to share with others!” This was followed-up by Frank Locker’s thoughts about the opportunity to let design serve an often underserved group of kids: “Once again, a district alternative school follows the best learning practices we know — in this case team teaching, expanded learning spaces, community connections–and becomes a role model that schools of general education could learn from.” Finally, Randy Fielding’s comments, that this was a “lovely project, filled with good features”, were echoed by others. He contined: “The classroom suite/studio concept with shared project space, messy area for science and art and roll-up doors, was very strong. I appreciated the arhchitect’s comment about involving younger kids next time so that they would still be there when the school opened–I felt that she was truly letting us into the process and sharing a valuable insite, not just promoting a project.”

MERIT AWARD winning projects

St. Stephens School

Location: Algester, Australia.
Design Team: Fairweather Proberts Architects Pty Ltd
Ages: Grades Prep 6 (Stage 1 & 2).
Population: 350 students.
Completion: April 2006.

“The aim is to not only fit students for the ‘ knowledge economy, but help them become creative members of society ‘constructing a better world?’”

- Educator statement


The campus was conceived first and foremost as a school in a park.

Classroom blocks group together in clusters around covered open space. This maximizes the balance of open space areas across the campus. Open space has been modeled into smaller and larger play areas each with a landscape theme. Consistently throughout the project, similar care was devoted to external spaces as to interiors, noted the review team.

Educators spoke of the vibrancy of the school’s architecture, with its colors, multiplicity of spaces in and between classrooms, and the attention to passive cooling design features. All of this provided an innovative and comfortable environment for learning. The heat and humidity of a Queensland summer can be stifling, they said. Yet, the classrooms remain comfortable, even on the hottest days.

Review Team Comments:

“This elementary school has been conceived as a school in a park, which has the virtue of connecting it with the urban and social context,” remarked Pablo Campos. “Represents a nice combination of planning gestures to promote collaboration and activity-based learning,” continued Amy Yurko. Finally, Frank Locker offered a wonderful twist that extends beyond normal expectations: “A Catholic School Junior Years Technology Center seems like an oxymoron, at least by American expectations,” while pushing the review team to consider not only the commitment to the natural setting but also the unique set of circumstances that unite the programs and community.

Herget Middle School

Location: Aurora, Illinois (US)
Design Team: Architecture for Education Incorporated
Ages: Grades 6-8.
Population: 850 students.
Completion: August 2005.

“I think [it gives] a sense of ownership to staff and students.”

- Jeff Phillips


When the review team first learned of the designer’s description that the school sits like a heroic farmhouse on a 38-acre rural property, their curiosity was immediately piqued.

The educator team stressed that casual passers-by may not believe what they see is actually a school. They echoed the designer’s ideas that the school sits like a modern farmhouse on its rural site, becoming a metaphor of the American Heartland. This sensitivity to the larger ecological relationships and the indoor/outdoor connection grabbed the attention of many of us.

Internally, the program calls for a commitment to relationships while reflecting the heartland metaphor. Within the west wing, the classroom clusters plug into the main organizing element, a central barn-like space that includes the library, technology center, life skills, process labs, science project room, conference rooms, student services, restrooms, and lockers. Configured around a resource area, each classroom cluster is themed around a different component of education. Each classroom has a large sectional roll up door to maximize the connection between classroom and resource area. The building’s shape and rooflines recall the farmhouses and barns that were once on the site. Field stone, brick, corrugated and standing seam metal and various other industrial and agricultural materials also emphasize the theme.

When seen as a whole, the building’s spaces align clearly with the rural legacy in a built reflection of the surrounding community.

Review Team Comments:

“Teachers are using this school for professional development and that is great — they will be learning in a facility that will encourage them to stretch their thinking about what a learning environment can offer,” stated Jeff Lackney, while Jeff Phillips spoke of a range of things he appreciated: “The way the buildings are ecologically sensitive and sit with the site, and almost resolve the shopping centre car-park entrance blight that so many schools have. …but the best is the learning clusters. I think they give a sense of ownership of staff and students.”

The Bay School of San Francisco

Location: San Francisco, CA.
Design Team: Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects
Ages: Grades 9-12.
Population: 400 students.
Completion: 2005.

“This is the educational equivalent of a grand hotel, with open and inviting public spaces on the ground floor, and accommodating the generally private spaces above.”

– Frank Locker


As a new independent college preparatory high school, the school had a unique opportunity to undertake the renovation of its campus using its mission and philosophy as guiding principles.

This conversion of a National Register Historic Landmark Army barracks into a start-up independent high school weaves together historic preservation, adaptive reuse and environmental responsibility, creating spaces that teach. Located within the Golden Gate National Recreation Area in the Presidio of San Francisco, the school offers a unique curriculum emphasizing the interrelationship of science, technology, ethics, and world religions.

The original 1912 barracks building was converted to serve a maximum student body of 400 with a full compliment of educational spaces. The design reinforces the school’s mission: making connections between academic disciplines, between students and teachers, between the school and the outside community, between the past and the future. Additionally, the educator’s commitment to the environment also came through within the design. The campus design focuses on stewardship of the environment, another core value of the school, utilizing natural ventilation provided by the repair and reuse of existing operable windows. Wherever possible, original materials such as marble were reused.

As a result of the campus renovation it is estimated that energy use will be less than half of a new school building of comparable size.

Review Team Comments:

“The first floor Library-Student Center-Dining sequence, and the thought that students flow through one to another, and then up to the classrooms, makes spatial contrast as rich as the imagined social contrast,” speaks to how Frank Locker kicked off discussion of the key spaces. His colleague, Bobbie Hill, took it a step further: “This is one of the most successful renovations I’ve yet to see. I love the space!” while Randy Fielding remarked about the “lively architectural details” and “particularly liking the fabric/lighting/ceiling elements in the student union.” Finally, Prakash Nair echoed the quality of renovation in this project: “Attention to detail and care for the historic building all add up to spaces and furnishings that are refreshingly different that a traditional school.”

Montessori School of Maui

Location: Makawao, HI (US).
Design Team: Flansburgh Associates, Inc.
Ages: Grades Primary/Middle.
Population: 270 students.
Completion: 2007 (scheduled).

“Kudos to both architects and educators for their vision and willingness to treat children with the respect they deserve.”

– Prakash Nair


Located on the northern slope of a volcano, at roughly 1,500 feet above sea level, this Montessori school demonstrates a real commitment to sustainability.

Both educators and the design team saw an expanded campus environment that reflects the school’s educational mission and ecological values. The site and building design had to actualize the principles and practices of the school’s Earth Education program and the Montessori philosophy of education, which always incorporates outdoor education. This Living Campus integrates the curriculum within a series of individual buildings and outdoor special-use areas.

The school’s educators stated that the sustainability guidelines and integrated curriculum directed new campus construction in such a way that students and teachers can utilize the facilities and grounds as learning tools within an expanded prepared environment. The campus and the buildings needed to provide and maximize opportunities for students to fall in love with the natural world. Additionally, the design stresses a connection with the Earth’s natural cycles.

To all who reviewed the project, it was clear that the design reinforces and fosters the student’s ability to gain an understanding of humanity’s relationship with Earth’s systems and species.

Review Team Comments:

Amy Yurko connected immediately with the connection between design and program: “The limited number of classrooms reinforces the commitment to using outdoor learning environment.” Taking it one step further, Prakash Nair spoke passionately that this was one of the best designs he had seen in the entire competition: “This is one of the very few (can we safely say less than 0.5% of schools anywhere) that is conscious about the need for students to experience the outdoors, experience nature (both visually and experientially) and demonstrate in the design itself, good environmental stewardship. This design is truly one of the best I have seen this year.”

Perspectives Charter School

Location: Chicago, IL (US)
Design Team: Perkins+Will Architects
Ages: Grades 6-12.
Population: 300 students.
Completion: 2004.

“I think the architecture is brave and dynamic in its form, and in its organization and use of with light and colors,”

– Ulla Kjærvang


This new education facility is the physical expression of a new Chicago charter school dedicated to the mission of providing lower-income urban students with a rigorous and relevant education to prepare them for life in a changing and competitive world.

The designers recognized that the signature design would signal to the community at large that learning is a paramount civic priority. By participating in an architectural conversation with Chicago’s commercial and cultural landmarks, the new facility emphasizes the role of education in the civic landscape. Significantly adding to the revitalization of a struggling lower-income Chicago neighborhood, the school actively shares its facility with community organizations that offer enrichment programs to youth.

Educators remarked that the presence of the school at its new location represents an important step forward in the revitalization and reinvestment in Chicago’s South Loop. A public school in this community is not just an asset for families with school-age children. Additionally, the beautiful, state-of-the-art school building symbolizes new beginnings in an area of the city that has historically been underdeveloped. The triangular building’s multi-story windows invite the outside community into the building visually, and physically, as well as figuratively. Because the school is designed to be open and welcoming, the new school building functions as the center of a community of teachers, families, neighbors, and business and philanthropic partners.

Review Team Comments:

“And I do like the way they use text on the ceilings,” offered Ulla Kjærvang, “I might find the text too “disciplined” in its contents. But it is inspiring and a good idea. I like the way they have organised the family room and the media center—it seems to be a great place. I think this project has innovative and inspiring ideas in its architecture and its contents..” Fellow jury member, Jeff Phillips, added to these early comments by returning to the client’s initial request: “Certainly an up-scale school building that gives a clear message of meaning business to those inside and looking on from the outside. Judging by the narratives it’s exactly what was asked for.”


Location: Herbrechtingen, Germany
Design Team: Behnisch Architekten
Ages: 6-16.
Population: 137 students.
Completion: 2004.

“There is much to be learned from designing for students with exceptionalities. We should adopt such techniques for all educational environments.”

– Bobbie Hill


The architects created a flexible and open structure with this school project.

A composition of several small, easily accessible one-story-high buildings offers protected, individual worlds grouped around a central courtyard. All of this is linked by an entrance hall with partly glazed roof. As a design team, they believed that one should not think of a building. Rather, they helped the community dream of an open spatial structure, an environment where each area can develop according to its own order. Each structure is independent. They are, however, connected to others by communal areas. This creates an apt metaphor for the students and entire learning community.

The educators expressed gratitude for the new building’s design. Because everything is under one roof, their feeling is that the design allowed the spaces to support all children and young people in enhanced ways. The school has been designed with a view to supporting the optimum development of the individual child. The students and teachers are described as being closer to each other now, developed a new community in the process. The collaboration between the staff members has quickly become more intensive thanks to design choices made and the final building form(s). Opinions and experiences can be exchanged more easily, and this collaboration is to the benefit of the academic efforts.

Review Team Comments:

“This is a lovely space for people, whole, or mentally and physically challenged,” noted Randy Fielding, “I feel the soft hues of concrete and wood, the subtle blends of yellow, green, and orange on the floors and walls, the strong connection to a green courtyard, and ample natural light provide a sweet, peaceful space in a world that is often hard and confusing to challenged children.” Bobby Hill agreed with him and then went on to speak of the ‘comfort’ and ‘inviting’ nature of the environment: “I love how the austere design is complimented with the warmth of wood and warm colors of paint and other materials. The scale of the buildings and spaces are comforting. The designers have created a modern and sleek environment that is inviting. Clearly, this is something that is not often seen in schools in America.”

Cambridge Media Arts Studio

Location: Cambridge, MA (US).
Design Team: HMFH Architects Inc.
Ages: Grades 9-12.
Population: 60 students.
Completion: November, 2005.

“Its value is in its school to bigger-world-beyond-school connections.”

– Review team conversation


In terms of design and program, the center is entirely hands-on and transparent.

Classroom The heart of this project grew out of a consortium of the City’s School Department and the local Community Cable and Community Television systems. The project is a collaborative enterprise of the Rindge and Latin School, the city’s municipal television office, and the non-profit Cambridge Community Access Television (CCTV). The architect designed a television production and training center in a former auto dealership adjacent to the City’s High School and School of Technical Arts. The project manages to both serve and instruct the City’s Public School community at large. Additionally, it affords the high school’s Media Arts Program unparalleled access to state-of-the-art equipment and training.

All elements were designed to attract and engage both student and adult users. The program is held in a storefront location, across the street from the high school. The design team stressed that the street-level transparency helps to display the busyness and excitement of TV and video production without being housed in a traditional school environment. The community-based media production facility serves students in the high school’s technical arts program (RSTA), as well as community users. Learning activities in the storefront instruction space are visible from the sidewalk as well as from the interior of the building. Likewise, in the Be-Live studio, on-air telecasts are visible behind the corridor’s acoustic glass wall.

Review Team Comments:

Jeff Lackney spoke directly to a design that supports community partnerships: “It is great to see a consortium of public agencies working cooperatively to create a great non-traditional adaptive reuse learning environment as this television production studio demonstrates.” Frank Locker took it one step further: “Whenever a school collaborates with other public entities to share resources, celebrates a career-tech program that is often hidden away in the ‘bowels’ of the building and makes it highly visible, and creates a gesture which is especially community-friendly, it deserves an award. Kudos to Cambridge!”

Estrella Mountain Community College Ocotillo Hall

Location: Avondale, California (US)
Design Team: Orcutt/Winslow Partnership
Ages: Community College.
Population: Supports 22 classrooms.
Completion: December, 2005.

“More proof that some of the most innovative educational programs and design solutions are beginning to gather speed at the community college level …and push the pace of the race, too.”

– Review team conversation


The project set out to offer a premiere active learning environment on a progressive campus in one of the U.S.’s fastest growing cities.

Additionally, the project team and educational community sensed an opportunity to explore the evolving nature of learning. The leadership at this school recognized the power an institution has in leveraging physical space, whether it is formal or informal, to promote engagement and advance teaching and learning. Ultimately, the educators committed to a design that would support the evolution of the student experience. College students have very different ideas about how and where learning takes place. As a result, traditional classrooms designed specifically for knowledge delivery no longer work. Recognizing this, the community college and their design partners committed to meet the changing needs and expectations of faculty and students through the design of creative and dynamic learning spaces.

The Learning Studios address these changing needs by supporting expectations of students and faculty who sought flexibility. Core elements internally show adaptable and fully technologically integrated teaching and learning spaces. Socialization is encouraged through small gathering spaces both in and outside of the building. The project was conceived as organic learning spaces where students explore a variety of academic disciplines shaped by an architecture that transforms lives every day. This commitment is shared programmatically with a faculty initiative to nurture teaching and learning.

Review Team Comments:

“One of the certain values of this project is the use of informal areas, like ‘think stops,’ as active alternative learning places,” stated Pablo Campos. Review team members spoke of the potential branding power of such a building: “Show this to a 17 year-old without naming the school or breathing the ‘community college’ phrase and you’ll have high school grads knocking down the doors to be part of this space. This specifically lies in their ability to talk in terms of ‘radical flexibility’ and ‘invisible’ classrooms.” Furthermore, Prakash Nair narrowed in on the mission of learning: “What stands out about this design is that it is one of the best furnished, colorful projects I have seen. Overall, it looks like a great place for teaching and learning.” Finally, Susan Wolff discussed the process of design and intention: “I gave it a merit rating because they developed and used prototypes; thus giving the users an opportunity to determine the opportunities and challenges of the physical learning environment and its impact on their learning and goals. There is power in the process they used.”

2006 MERIT AWARD: Íþróttaakademía
Location: Reykjanesbær, Iceland
Design Team: Arkitektur.Is
Ages: University.
Population: 300 students.
Completion: September, 2005.

“The sculptural mass of rock, floating wood stair and shockingly wild lime green floors are more than eye candy to me–they transform this from a prison (how I experience most schools) to a place I could inhabit.”

– Randy Fielding


This building reinforces the school’s identity as an athletic college.

Students do not only study sports in this program, but they actively pursue the science of athletic, health and physical education along with the human body. The gymnasium is the center of this learning space. From the outside, the building forms are seen as a large rust-colored volume with a ceiling-high corner window. To approaching visitors, this allows glimpses of what the building’s internal spaces are used for. The remainder of the building is a white concrete volume devoted to classrooms, library, and various other programmatic needs. On the interior, though, the space is much more open, stressed the design team. Without the strict divisions implied by the exterior, this allows a dynamic, flowing, and adaptable space to be evolve within. Glass walls and movable walls add to this impression, and allow the space within to move as the needs of education change.

To stress the educational program, the educators stressed that the classrooms should all have immediate connections with the gym. Though they do not open directly into the athletic space, movable walls and open hallway on the second floor allow the classrooms to be part of the open space of the gymnasium. The intention is to stimulate learning through a constant motion and interconnectivity. The learning spaces have movable walls to allow them to both open into the public spaces and to change size as the needs of classes change. The students meet, socialize, study and eat in the foyer. Additionally, classes can also spill into it to include more people or to provide more active learning space. Similarly, the activity of the common space can be extended to an unused classroom or two by opening up the space.

Review Team Comments:

“The connection between the circulation area and gym on the 2nd floor is a marvelous illustration of transparency and the value of enriched, stimulating environments for learning; with it’s low glass rail, skylight, green floor, blue and red-orange paint, it’s a notable exception to the typical corridor along a gym,” stated Randy Fielding. His colleague, Amy Yurko offered: “The detailing is as exquisite as the subject. I hope the future buildings on this campus exude the same elegance of purpose and form.” Rounding out the discussion, Jeff Phillips stated: “It’s a bit more than a gym with some rooms around it. The sense of common purpose would be evident to the users and identifiable as an academy. The building seems ‘light on its feet’ which is very appropriate.”

2006 CITATION AWARD-Winning projects:

Top Row (left to right):
Thomas L. Wells Public School, Scarborough, CA (US), Baird Sampson Neuert Architects
York/Liverpool Elementary School, Medina, Ohio (US), Duket Porter Associates
Three Mile Creek Elementary, Perry, UT (US), VCBO Architecture, LLC
York Region School for Athletics and Healthy Active Living, Markham, Ontario, Canada, ZAS Architects Inc.
Michael Berry Career Center, Dearborn Heights, MI (US), Fanning/Howey Associates, Inc.

Middle Row (left to right):
Franklin High School Outdoor Classroom, Los Angeles, CA (US), Alex Amerri
Gurukul (elementary school), Kerala, India, Architecture Department/Auroville Building Centre
Twelve Bridges High School, Lincoln, CA (US), NTDSTICHLER Architecture
Chung Cheng High School, Singapore, CPG Consultants Pte Ltd
Salisbury School, Salisbury, CT (US), The Office of Michael Rosenfeld, Inc., Architects

Bottom Row (left to right):
Universidad de Monterrey: Preparatoria Unidad Valle Alto, Monterrey, N.L., Mexico, Bernardo Hinojosa Architects and Planners
Blythewood High School, Blythewood, SC (US), Perkins+Will Architects
King/Robinson Magnet School, New Haven, CT (US), Davis Brody Bond LLP
New Upper Elementary School, North Hanover Township, NJ (US), Vitetta
Suzhou Singapore International School, Suzhou, China, CPG Consultants Pte Ltd

2006 RECOGNIZED VALUE Award projects

Top Row (left to right):
Georgetown South Child Development and Community Center, Manassas, VA (US), BMK Architects PC
Celentano Museum Academy, New Haven, CT (US), Gilbane Building Co.
Stittsville Public School, Stittsville, CA (US), Edward J Cuhaci and Associates Architects Inc.
Northwest Middle School, Salt Lake City, UT (US), VCBO Architecture, LLC

Middle Row (left to right):
Weymouth High School, Weymouth, MA (US), Drummey Rosane Anderson, Inc.
Little Elm High School, Little Elm, Texas (US), SHW Group
Little Village Lawndale High School, Chicago, IL (US), OWP/P
Cass Technical High School, Detroit, MI (US), TMP/TYJT

Bottom Row (left to right):
Vanden High School, Fairfield, CA (US), Gelfand Partners Architects (formerly Gelfand RNP)
Microsoft School of the Future, Philadelphia, PA (US), The Prisco Group
Tehran Virtual School, Tehran, Iran, Reza Sadeghi
UCI Natural Sciences Unit II Building, Irvine, CA (US), UCI Design & Construction Services

Awards Program Overview:

Since 2000, the program has been redefining the global vocabulary for educational facility design by challenging traditional standards and committing to learner-centered, cost-efficient and sustainable learning environments.

Co-sponsored in 2006 by School Construction News, Edutopia (George Lucas Foundation), and SchoolsforLife, this assemblage of projects is not a fashion show showcasing the ‘look’ of the building. The DesignShare Awards program is unique in many ways because it extends well beyond the architecture itself: it focuses first on learning, second on the learners, and then third on how the built or natural environment provides rich learning opportunities.

DesignShare Project Library:

Each winning project joins a comprehensive database at of more than 400 best-practice case studies.

Educator narratives, planning process summaries, construction data, photographs, floor and site plans all combine to help school leaders and the design community who seek projects that can help to inspire local projects. Ranging from early childhood centers to the university campus, the common ground is that each of the featured projects challenge current standards and show more effective solutions.

2006 Review Team:

The process of reviewing projects from 11 different countries was conducted via a series of dynamic web-based tools. A team of 12 architectural, planning, and educational experts from across the globe gather electronically to engage in dialogue while reviewing the submitted projects.

Photo: (Top, L-R) Rodolfo Almedia, Randy Fielding, Bobbie Hill, Ulla Kjærvang, Dr. Jeff Lackney, Dr. Frank Locker; (Bottom, L-R) Prakash Nair, Jeff Phillips, Dr. Henry Sanoff, Dr. Susan Wolff, Amy Yurko, Dr. Pablo Campos.

The team members embraced the use of new technologies to review the projects and provide comment. This year, reviewers used a Wiki, a piece of server software that allows users to freely create and edit Web page content using any Web browser. This easy-to-use interface included 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 this is done passionately while allowing the projects names and project teams to remain anonymous. Names of projects, designers, planners, and architects are withheld until after the ratings have been completed in order to ensure a level-playing field based on quality and attention to spaces that inspire learning.

Review Process:

In an effort to solidify the commitment to learning, even the review team members embrace stepping out of their comfort zones. Each year, the review team pushes themselves as a community and as individuals to become far better designers and educators than when the process started. Not always do the team members agree. Because the review process extends over several months, reviewers are able to explore disagreements and new suggestions. In addition, while key individuals are responsible for initial reviews of individual projects, all review team members are invited to challenge initial reviews.

Ultimately, a deep desire to learn and be stretched prevails. And new ways of thinking about school design take hold. Wikis, design patterns, “schools in parks,” lively debates, “hope-filled visions for the future,” and prototypes were unique vocabulary, techniques, and products that challenged the 2006 school Design Award review and debate. The philosophy behind DesignShare has historically been to move from the competitive model of the past to an age of collaboration.

The founder of DesignShare, Randy Fielding states “Sharing one’s work in an international forum opens the doors to new team synergies, project opportunities, and innovative approaches,” a philosophy that was thoroughly embraced throughout the 2006 Awards program review process.

Edited by:

Dr. Susan J. Wolff
Chief Academic Officer, Columbia Gorge Community College
Director, Wolff Designs,
Senior Consultant, FieldingNair International

Randy Fielding
Founder & Editorial Director, DesignShare

Christian Long
President & CEO, DesignShare


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