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2008 Design Awards Commentary

2008 Design Awards Commentary

by Tiffany L. Green, Director of Communications

I. Introduction
II. Summary of the 2008 Program
III. Honor Awards (Full Descriptions)
IV. Merit Awards (Full Descriptions)
V. Citation Awards
VI. Recognized Value Awards
VII. 2008 Review Team


Schools all over the world are being reinvented to meet the needs of an ever-changing global economy. The world is shrinking; knowledge is no longer a commodity restricted to the privileged. Developing nations are accessing the information superhighway and have passed some of the super powers. Corporations are consolidating globally and outsourcing to locations with large skilled labor forces.

The goal of the DesignShare Awards is to find those learning environments that meet at the crossroads of innovative design and pioneering educational programs.

Three Patterns of Innovation stick out this year: School as the Real-World, Community Involved in the Design Process, and Sustainable Design.

The lines are blurred between where school ends and where the real world begins. The skill sets required of students are constantly changing and evolving. Many schools still hold on to the old paradigm of memorization and regurgitation of facts when the world is seeking learners who bring creativity and critical thinking. A Project Based Learning pedagogy at the center of the pattern, School as the Real World. Students set their own goals, and develop and execute their ideas independently. Often these projects are service oriented and are implemented within the local community. This requires a different set of spaces than a traditional school. The spaces read more like a business where colleagues can meet in small rooms for brainstorming or in a common space to research, review and refresh. Learners also require multi-purpose spaces to build, store and display their projects .

As schools are being renovated or designed, the larger community (parents, school boards, community organizations, etc.) is becoming more involved in the design process. This is as much out of necessity as it is out of interest as schools broaden the number of activities and spaces that are inclusive of the entire community. Schools are becoming community-learning centers because cities, states, and countries cannot justify the cost of these buildings unless they are usable “24 hours per day”. When schools simulate the real-world , they require additional partnerships and resources. Involving key partners in the design process is integral to gaining and maintaining buy-in, as well as making sure the building functions well for everyone. Administrators may see things one way, while parents and members of the community bring a fresh eye to the design.

Communities – globally - are looking for new ways to preserve and sustain the natural environment. Sustainability concepts were integrated into many of the schools in the 9th Annual DesignShare Awards. Some reused materials, others focused on natural and non-toxic materials especially in environments for younger learners. Others were concerned about minimizing damage to the environment by maximizing daylight and passive heat and incorporating organic connections to the outdoors. DesignShare continues to support sustainable designs and promotes the best sustainably designed schools in the world.


The 2008 winning projects include:
2 Honor Awards
8 Merit Awards
4 Citation Awards
14 Recognized Value

Teams of educators and architects submitting projects were asked to describe ideas that enhance learning, as well as innovations in planning, programming and design that facilitate education. The DesignShare Awards program recognizes projects that– by design –support the learning process, anticipate change, and inspire unimagined possibilities.

The 9th Annual DesignShare Awards asked:

  • What exemplary ideas do the designs contain that enhance learning?
  • What innovations in the planning, programming and design process supported the realization of those exemplary ideas?
  • An educator is to describe the key ideas about learning underlying the facility, along with the goals for the environment. If the project is complete and in operation, this narrative should address how well these ideas are working.


Hazelwood School For The Multiple Sensory Impaired

This architecture takes care of the environment…takes care of the students, the children, the teachers, the parents, and contains all of them. This is a school with heart and soul.
–Ana Bajcura

Location: Glasgow, United Kingdom
Designer: Gordon Murray + Alan Dunlop Architects
Program: Alternative Learning Environment, ages 2 to 19
Capacity: 60 students with multiple disabilities
Completion: August 2007


Hazelwood caters to 60 students with multiple disabilities, aged from 2 to 19. Each student has a combination of two or more of the following impairments: visual, hearing, mobility or cognitive.

The design focused on creating a safe, stimulating environment for pupils and staff. The architect set out to eliminate any institutional feel and worked to avoid conventional details, creating a tailored design that incorporates visual, aural and tactile clues.

The school is set within a landscaped green adjacent to a large public park, as is surrounded by mature lime and beach trees . The building snakes through the site, curving around the existing trees, creating a series of small garden spaces and maximizing the potential for more intimate outdoor teaching (learning?) environments.

The choice of materials was of great importance. The architect developed a palette of highly textured natural materials that are stimulating to touch and smell. Naturally weathering timber, reclaimed slate tiles and zinc were used on the exterior.

The school’s head teacher says:

“When our children leave this school, they will not go into jobs or go and live in their own flat or house- they will always need to be supported. Adults who are blind and have learning difficulties can lead passive lives. But the more independence they have, the more choices they will be able to make and the more stimulating their lives will be.”


I adore the orange cabinets, the 50% horizontal glazing, and the lovely, lovely, lovely wooden beams (vertical and horizontal) alike. And as a papa of a young kiddo myself, the ground space is built for play/exploration/tumbling/soft napping. Now, as to the other elements, I can’t say enough about the committed focus to guarantee the students’ ability to maintain/develop “independence” and “freedom”. The navigational wall rail, the cork board (sensitive/comfy to the touch), and the ‘risky’ choice of curved walls that seems to defy the ‘logic’ of traditional views of ‘helping’ disabled humans get from point A to B. But when ‘discovery’ and ‘trust’ are coupled…anything is possible! Oh, how do I respect the approach this team took!
-Christian Long

I am taken by the amount of time spent with users, client, staff as well as experts. A great deal of thought - four years - went into this design result. The attention to multi-sensory detail, the integration of the building with its site, and the focus on way finding is quite interesting - although I confess I do not know enough to be a judge of its success. I sense that much was learned by all in this process. I hope they publish a lengthier book detailing what they learned.
-Jeff Lackney

A beautiful, well thought-out design. Every school should be like this. It sits well in the site making most of existing trees. Use of natural materials and variety of materials give it a very ‘soft’ edge. Internal spaces have excellent daylight and louvers create stimulating patterns. Space planning is also a very good with wide corridors and storage spaces outside each classroom for mobility aids etc. There is also access to outside from each classroom. Whole briefing process is also innovative. Not many schools would appoint a head two years in advance. Four months consultation process also seems to have helped in refining the brief. An excellent facility for some of the most needy children. I will go all the way to Honor Award on this one.
-Mukund Patel

Great feeling, good energy. This school captures the tight site mentality without becoming boxy and institutional.
-David Smith

The International School

The project beautifully illustrates principles of transparency and an active, street-like central commons.
-Randy Fielding

Location: The Hague, the Netherlands
Designer: Atelier Pro: Leon Thier/Hans Kalkhoven (now Studio Leon Thier architects: Profile)
Program: Alternative Learning Environment, ages 5-16
Capacity: 1800


The International School is a meeting place for 1800 pupils with 80 different nationalities, all with their own languages and cultures. Community is the central theme of this school. There is no division in levels and all the age groups are located in one building, around one central Plaza. The International School gives its students two very important tasks: to learn the importance of social issues in life and to care for Mother Earth. In the building, we see several sustainable solutions. For instance: the floors feature a water-pipe system, cooled in summer by a very low-energy adiabatic cooling system and warmed in winter by decentralized low temperature heating units, combined with storage of heat (for winter) and cold (for summer) at the bottom of the building. Self-invented sunscreen blinds are part of the strong manor-like architectural image.

A school with a heart
Within this building three different schools are combined: a Playgroup, a Primary School and a Secondary School. The heart of the school is formed by a high, elongated atrium illuminated by daylight. The Plaza exists as a symbol of “school as community”. Like a square in a city, the Plaza is the center, and is an interesting place to be. Situated around the Plaza are media resource centers, art rooms, sporting facilities, a canteen and a theater.

A school with overlapping spaces
The classrooms for the younger students, are situated around a safe playground with a huge sandpit. These classrooms are very transparent due to large glass sliding doors. Because of this, the corridor space is heavily used by students. The corridors for the older students are designed for double use as a study area. Several balconies offer a splendid view of the Plaza. Large, rolling shutters offer the possibility of using part of the Plaza as a stage. With these shutters open, the galleries become part of the scenery. This is the secret of the building’s flexibility: a diversity of teaching environments.

A school with several scales
Under an enormous canopy, the entrance stairs give comfort to the students at the end of the day while they are waiting to be taken home. The younger children have their own entrance and square, called the Glass House, where they can play and have their lunch. The playroom at the Glass House also has sliding doors. When the doors are open, the two spaces together form a little theater.

The school inside out
Theneighbors [neighboring businesses] surrounding the International School have frequent contact with the school. Service Learning is an important component of the school and community connections.

The school outside in
The neighbors visit the school often. Many follow any number of language courses the school offers. In the evening, when all the children have left the school, the sport center is open to the community.


I can see some issues with the size of the school at 1800, and the monotonous, yet interestingly punctuated facade-feeling factory like. But, when you get inside and sense the active nature of the Plaza you are won over. This feels like a “marketplace of ideas”. The transparency makes this school feel quite different that it might if it were as cellular on the inside as it is on the outside. Would have liked to see more of the learning areas - they appear to have some variety, but it’s unclear from the plans.
-Jeff Lackney

The interior of the Street-plaza is joyful and, for me, symbolized the soul of the markets in the towns of Netherlands. It’s like a “Plaza-home”. The Glass-house for the children seems like “Glass-home”.
-Ana Bajcura


Trias VMBO

It’s not often you can sense energy through a picture. This school is one I would love to visit and learn more about how things are working out for them, architecturally and educationally.
-Tiffany Green

Location: Krommenie, the Netherlands
Designer: Atelier Pro: Leon Thier (now Studio Leon Thier architects: Profile)/Johan Blokland
Program: Alternative Learning Environment, ages 12-16
Capacity: 1800


This school for Preparatory Vocational Education imitates workrooms of all types of jobs, including an office environment, spaces for care, catering and workshops for engineering and fashion design. All of them have their own shop located in the village square - the heart of the school. Preparatory Vocational Education is all about practicing the Hands (Ability), the Head (Knowledge), and the Heart (Passion): all of them should be practiced equally. These values are of great importance for future professionals.

A school as the real world
Preparatory Vocational Education is a rather new teaching system for trades and crafts, which combines practical and theoretical studies for children ages 12-16. The school’s concept aims to imitate the real world. Begging for support and extra money, the school principal and architect together convinced politicians of all parties to help the school become a symbol of the belief that building a new educational facility could redevelop the famous Zaan region as a trades and crafts region.

A school with a village square
A property was literally obtained on a crossing of roads and public transport. The school was designed as a huge factory-like block with facades of tiles found in the region’s historic sheds. On the side of the provincial but busy road and train tracks, the workrooms are situated in this building. Here, students learn to work together on all manner of materials. Next door, a village square, the Brink, sits at the center of the school. It is here that students gather in the morning and during breaks. The Brink is multifunctional and also serves as the place for school parties and events like mock trade fairs and exhibitions where industries can interest and entice students.

A school with several scales
Wings are situated crosswise on the Brink, with glasshouses in between, and a pond at the end, thus avoiding having fences around the school. In these wings, two floors of classrooms, clustered together with teacher’s rooms and a common room, offer a home for groups of children so they will not feel lost in the big building. These clusters are also used for practical teaching such as in real office environments, fashion workrooms, exercise areas, and restaurants.

A school as facility
During the day, the school uses the sports centre; in the evening, it is public domain. Like the Brink, the sports centre has a square where people can meet after their sporting activities. The auditorium in between the school and the sports centre, usable by both, is situated above the connecting road of two quarters, with a glass facade showcasing what is happening inside the school.

Recently, the school held a fashion show. The division of Fashion & Commerce created the clothes, the division of Care & Health applied the make-up, and the division of Engineering made the scenery and took care of the sound and lightning. The joining of three distinct trades exemplified the school’s original desire to connect its students with its community and promote “school as the real world”.


“The idea that a school can serve as a symbol of economic regeneration for a trades and crafts region is powerful. Located in a region north of Amsterdam once noted for construction of windmills, this is a reinvention of the vocational school as a nexus of vitality. The use of wood, steel, and concrete in the Town Square serves as a 3-dimensional text book, illustrating a simple use of common materials to create spaces for people to gather, work, and play.”
-Randy Fielding

There is so much to be excited about this learning environment…it is well planned and designed architecturally and educationally; its colorful, and I love the little shops in the village square or “Brink” for each cluster to show off their work. That is how you do student display and much more interactive than a lonely display case. I am particularly impressed by the goal to make school like the real world…Project Based Learning at its best. There are a number of Design Patterns expressed by this school including the building as a 3D textbook, welcoming entry, science labs, art labs and life skills areas, Performance, casual eating, transparency, watering hole, flexible spaces, etc. Kudos to the board and the architect.
-Tiffany Green

School Without Walls Senior High School

This is the future of much urban school programming and designing; it may, in fact, save a lot of urban schools.
-Christian Long

Location: Washington, DC
Designer: Ehrenkrantz Eckstut & Kuhn Architects
Program: High School/Secondary School, ages 14-21
Capacity: 440
Completion: 2009


Situated in a 19th century building with a 21st century addition, this school blurs the physical and programmatic boundaries between a small urban high school and a research university, creating a seamless, grade 9 through 16 curriculum. This school-university partnership also grew to renew and expand a deteriorating historic school building and create a new residence hall.

The school is a 440-student, urban high school located in the heart of a major university’s academic district in downtown Washington, DC. Taking full advantage of its urban location by creating partnerships with the university and the wealth of other resources throughout the District of Columbia, the school uses the city as its classroom.

The school’s student-centered philosophy will be fostered by the architecture of the revitalized campus. The restored, intimate, and non-institutional character and inviting, day-lit interior of the historic school building will be complemented by the daylight-filled, 21st-century addition that will build upon and enhance the small school ambiance while providing the state-of-theart labs, classrooms, a large and flexible “commons,” a media center with views across the academic district and the school’s first controlled outdoor space – a second floor roof terrace built above the school’s new “commons.”

The project is being realized by an innovative joint-use partnership. Building upon their established programmatic partnerships, the school and the university have created another innovative partnership that will enable the school to be modernized and expanded. Through a Planned Unit Development, the university purchased a portion of the school’s parking lot and the school’s excess development rights, enabling the university to construct a much needed residence hall behind the school. The school district, in turn, is using the funds from this transaction to modernize and expand the school’s facilities to ensure that the learning environment supports the school’s ambitious and successful program.

The school environment strives to blend university elements with traditional high school elements to foster an environment of educational professionalism. This is achieved with high-tech classrooms built to mirror those used by the university, and by offering wireless capabilities for laptop use and multimedia presentations. In addition, social spaces such as terraces and lounges allow the students to interact in a campus-like setting.

As part of the symbiotic relationship, the university utilizes the high school during the hours that classes are not held. The similarity between the university’s classrooms and the school’s classrooms allows the university faculty to transition seamlessly into the new setting. The university’s involvement in the planning process was essential to improving the school’s networking and helped to foster connectivity.


Already happy by the early narrative describing this HS/college partnership, this is the future of much urban school programming and designing; it may, in fact, save a lot of urban schools. Intriguing to have it in a 19th century school building with a 21st century add-on, too. Interesting bit about the schools ‘controlled outdoor space’ — called the ‘commons’. Obviously in a ‘tough’ area of the city where allowing the kids to be outside is a risk (more in terms of their going in and out, then just being out)…so this makes me curious in a good way. A kinder version of a ‘cage’, perhaps? Having been in a school like this that essentially kept the kids inside all day for security reasons, I like this step forward…although it is typical of any NYC school that has a playground on the roof…but rare in DC so far. This is where things get interesting in a really positive manner for the early college academic programs and the school/college partnership: “For example, small seating areas within the atrium of the new building echo the central hall of the historic building - which is more a ‘place’ than circulation - and encourage study groups and small social gatherings. By promoting such positive interaction, the building fosters a subtle sense of security and encourages the continued creation of a strong learning community. These spaces also help to foster the idea that inside and out, the building provides a comfortable home base for the students and eases their transition to higher education. Aside from the collegiate ambiance, for example, each classroom will feature the same technology complement as the university’s classrooms and provide access to the university’s data network.” This I like very much! Ah, just realized the school will be on the campus of a university. OK, now I see why they are investing so much in this. My only concern is that if the partnership does not pan out over time, the university will keep the building, making it (one assumes) just another college building. I would have — in a perfect world — loved for this project to be ‘in the community’ and protected as a 9-12 always (even if the partnership fizzles). One can wish, huh? Finally, in terms of the actual spaces and the design side of things, am I the only one who feels a bit bored with this? What college doesn’t already have spaces like this in abundant #? Besides the HS/college partnership and the re-hab of a 19C building into a future learning space with tech added.
-Christian Long

This is a great model for school-university K16 partnerships that have been discussed in the abstract for so long. Young students have a direct experience of being among older students. We need more of this and I agree with Christian, this kind of model that together with others could save public education. I appreciate the focus on the experiential aspects of the building in the visuals, which helps us understand the design intention.
-Jeff Lackney

Mothers’ Club Family Learning Center (United States)

A very inviting and economical facility for multi-generational learning! Beyond the sustainable features of the facility, of which there are many, the relaxed and comfortable feeling provided by the design must be enjoyable for both parent and child.
-Jeff Lackney

Location: Pasadena, California, United States
Designer: Harley Ellis Devereaux
Program: Kindergarten/Preschool/Early Education/Nursery
Capacity: 80


The mission of the center is to help prepare families living in isolation and poverty to succeed in school and in life through two-generation learning. This unique approach engages mother and child in early education programs, parenting, and literacy education.

To provide a high-quality learning environment that would support these goals, the organization made the decision to relocate from its former residence of 40-plus years to a new “green” facility that was designed for LEED Gold certification. It is the first preschool nationwide to register for certification at the Gold Level. The 10,000 square foot facility was completely gutted and renovated. Included in the comprehensive redevelopment of the site was the transformation of half of the asphalt parking lot into a safe, colorful play area.

The organization makes a concerted effort to use the building as a learning tool, explaining the “whys and hows” to kids and parents - why they recycle, why green buildings are good and how they can do these same things at home. An example of this is the highly visible placement of the building’s vertical/horizontal photovoltaic that provides twenty percent of the facility’s electricity.

The design allows inherent flexibility for a variety of activities/programs for different age groups within the same set of spaces. This was something the center desperately needed but couldn’t achieve in their previous space. The organization can now expand their programs to accommodate more families while continuing to be a model program for babies and toddlers.

After 46 years as a tenant, the center purchased a building in the heart of northwest Pasadena- the area of the city with the lowest income and education levels, and highest concentration of poverty. Each day mothers come to our facility with their young children, from six weeks of age to five years old; mother and children remain on-site, engaged in their educational programs.

The children’s learning center is situated around a large atrium, capped by a clerestory that lets in light. Five age-appropriate classrooms are centered on the atrium with four of the classrooms featuring sliding storefront window doors that maximize flexibility while delineating classroom boundaries. The classrooms are large and airy, with space for quiet time, art activities, and creative projects. Two of the classrooms feature roll-up doors that create an indoor/outdoor learning environment. Children’s learning opportunities can flow from indoor activities to the outdoor learning center, minimizing difficult transition times.

The outdoor learning center is a key element of the facility design. Because many of the children live in crowded apartment buildings, outdoor time is important to their development. In the Southern California climate children spend a lot of time outdoors. The outdoor area is divided into an infant/toddler area accessed from the infant/toddler classrooms and a pre-school area. With an old, sprawling oak tree as its focal point, there are quiet areas, art areas, climbing structures, play houses, and a natural stream bed with an authentic hand pump.


A very inviting and economical facility for multi-generational learning! Beyond the sustainable features of the facility, of which there are many, the relaxed and comfortable feeling provided by the design must be enjoyable for both parent and child. The connection between the indoor and outdoors learning through the glass garage doors are fabulous. Central kitchens provide a natural attractor that connects parents in plan becomes a light filled social crossroads that invites transparent views into every classroom.
-Jeff Lackney

I totally support Jeff’s comments. I was very pleased to see the connections to the outside not only for the purpose of daylighting but the roll-up doors that can support spontaneity. The transparency for the interior spaces is just as exciting to provide connection, visibility, and safety. This facility is not “top drawer” in expense but is “top drawer” in understanding and respecting age-appropriate learning activities in inviting spaces, connecting family members, and at the same time giving parents and children some separation.
-Susan Wolff

I agree with Jeff and Susan in all. I think the best innovation of these schools is the use of technology to reduce the cost of energy and protect the environment. I keep value to the mission of the architects to learn and integrate two generation of people taking care of the energy. The integration between the inside and the outside is rich. I consider the design of the outside so completed because takes different elements of nature, included water landscaping.
-Ana Bajcura

Atrium School

The interior space where folks arrive or kiddos wait at the end of the day won me over as a father alone. Simple, modern, inviting, playful, and a complete surprise.
-Christian Long

Location: Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States
Designer: Maryann Thompson Architects
Program: Elementary/Primary School
Capacity: 120


When forced to vacate their historic brick schoolhouse, this progressive K-6 school opted to adaptively reuse an existing 70-year-old warehouse in a residential/industrial neighborhood, rather than construct an entirely new building. The institution strives to cultivate world citizens, and saw the need to teach the children about conservation and recycling by utilizing the building as a teaching tool. The teaching philosophy emphasizes whole-child education and values social development as much as cognitive and academic growth. Their methodology incorporates multi-age classrooms and an annual school-wide learning focus to unify all age groups around a common curricular thread.

The heart of the school is the atrium, a space for weekly all-school gatherings and daily gym classes. Carved out of the warehouse’s former loading dock, the atrium is equipped with a glass garage door, which opens to admit light and breezes. In spring and fall, the door remains open, creating outdoor instructional space. The head of school’s office is located at the crossroads between the school entrance and the atrium to facilitate transparency and encourage chance meetings between students, parents and faculty.

In satisfying the school’s vision for a healthy and sustainable building, the design team concentrated on a “common sense” sustainable approach. Opening the building on its south elevation through expansive glazing maximizes opportunities for indirect daylighting and passive heating. Existing concrete floors retain radiant solar gains to offset winter heating demands. Operable skylights and new windows support cross-ventilation via the stack effect and promote dependence on daylight. Highly efficient artificial lighting supplements where necessary. New mechanical systems harvest site energy through heat recovery and use of 100% ventilation air. Recycled wheatboard cabinets serve as student lockers in the hallways and storage in the atrium and classrooms. Toilets have dual-flush operation. Faucets have aerators and push rod control, encouraging water use awareness. This attitude continues outside where rainwater is collected from downspouts and reused in irrigating the landscape garden.

The school has always taught and lived by a credo of respect – respect yourself, respect others, and respect your environment. In its Statement on Diversity, the school pledges that it “assumes an ongoing responsibility to act as part of a larger community.” The goal of the school is to help students contribute to and take responsibility for their community and model that responsibility to their communities.

Many green strategies and attributes within the school’s new building are invisible to teachers and students. One of the most positive impacts the project has had is to change the relationship between the site and rain that falls on the site. When the project began, the site was 85% impervious surface, and all of the storm water that fell on those impervious surfaces either ran directly into the town storm water system or ran off to neighboring properties (where it was sent into the town storm water system). The new site arrangement handles all rainfall onsite (along with some runoff from the neighbors), allowing this water to infiltrate into the local water table. The benefits of this change are substantial: the aquifer is replenished, potentially polluted storm water is kept out of the local river, the town storm water infrastructure is used less, and local wildlife habitat is increased.


Gotta say that the interior space where folks arrive or kiddos wait at the end of the day won me over as a father alone. Simple, modern, inviting, playful, and a complete surprise. Loved the giraffes and the leather furniture (with small throw rug) on top of the concrete floors. Love how they saved money and yet made it feel alive (my assumption on the $ element, anyway). In short, professional/technical elements aside, if my young son entered/exited such a “Crossroads” space daily, I’d be proud to be affiliated with the school *** General things that grabbed my attention positively: 1. The ‘feel’ of light/access/air as the atrium door was open with the athletic events going on inside. Clearly a lovely ’staged’ shot (to get the light just right), but it grabbed my eyes. 2. Rocks used as eye-candy and sitting/playing spaces alike in the front of the school. Wood to brick relationship works for me visually. Less advantageous, in my humble opinion: 1. The entry way is a bit chaotic to the eye, esp. given the age group of the kiddos. What is the correlation in real terms? I’m cool with ‘modern’, but I fail to see the value of this entry way save the access on the ‘2nd level’ when you consider the gully and lower floor. 2. On the surface, I respect the use of materials with the breakout area, but I want it to feel ’softer’ in some way. Inexpensive materials are fine, but I’d like those benches to be more inviting somehow. Ideas? *** I’m temporarily mixed on an award level, but I’m leaning towards a “Merit” overall…but the “Crossroads” space is an “Honor” space for me. Mmm. Need to see what others say over time.
-Christian Long

This is a project that screams, “I’m sustainable!” Even the educator narrative is excited to be able to talk about their use of an adaptive reuse as an object lesson in “unnecessary consumption”. Clearly, the site has been developed to emphasize naturalist learning - at least that is how it appears. Don’t see any outdoor classrooms per se, but assume they are there. I get it, and appreciate it. I’m also, like you Christian, cool with modernism, actually I really like modernism, but in schools, this modernism needs to be tempered with some soft areas. I like concrete floors, but you can color them and create patterns too. One recent client group of ours told us their 20 year old concrete floors (saved money) have messed with their knees - beware). The Crossroads is nice, in that its open and kids appear in the photo blurry, meaning they really are running around. But, you see those staged chairs and quite “adult information counter” seem in complete opposition to the fun happening in the background. I was surprised (and delighted) by the apparent randomness of the classroom placement, it could have been so “20th Century double-loaded”, but it shows some playfulness in layout. I only wish I could see what those classrooms look like inside where kids (kiddos in Christian’s jargon) probably still spend most of their day. There is light everywhere and I assume the same in those classrooms. The breakout spaces seem a bit austere as well. They don’t feel like a place I’d like to breakout into. Window seat windows sill heights are too high (probably because they are existing window placements?).
-Jeff Lackney

I too appreciate the approach to sustainability. The use of passive strategies, which, in many ways can make the building more didactic and a better teaching tool about natural systems than add-on technology is especially encouraging to see. But beyond this, I particularly appreciated the thoughtfulness of the adaptive re-use approach. The crossroads, and atrium are fabulous examples of taking advantage of the existing buildings assets - namely high ceilings and column free open space - and enhancing this with daylight, and a connection to outdoor learning space (the deck). Daylight throughout seems to be ample and well controlled, even in the classrooms as seen in the multi-age classroom photo. I am less bothered by the simplicity of the interior. Lots of European schools - Switzerland, Germany especially have a similar straightforward aesthetic, with concrete and wood as the most prominent materials. Perhaps, over time, the simplicity of the school’s architecture becomes a well designed container or frame for all of the ephemera of day to day school life. The simplicity of architecture and materials supports all of the student work, and posters, and stuff that over time, as they are added to the school, enhance its character.
-Isaac Williams

The Children’s School

I would love to experience learning and life in a space that stimulates brain, heart, and exploration.
-Susan Wolff

Location: Stamford, Connecticut, United States
Designer: Maryann Thompson Architects
Program: Kindergarten/Preschool/Early Education/Nursery, ages 2-8
Capacity: 120


This modified one-room schoolhouse for an established Montessori school is designed to support their child-centered teaching methodologies. The open space encourages the free movement of the child through different learning areas. Environmentally sensitive design features instill values of conservation and stewardship in the students.

Roof planes subtly tilt against one another to let in light from above between their skewed forms, and they define the classroom spaces below them without the use of walls. The younger children occupy the east-facing wing as they are only in school in the morning; the older children occupy the west wing to take advantage of western light. The building has multiple relationships to the exterior play areas with doors out from every classroom.

The shifting plan allows for multiple experiences of the building that reduce its apparent scale to remain in keeping with scale of the child. It stimulates the child’s desire to wander, explore and interact with his environment. In order to fully understand it, the building must be occupied and its spaces engaged. The sequence of spaces offers a playful hide and reveal, taking the child on a journey, during both the movement through it and the experience of the unfolding of the building into the landscape.

The Children’s School is designed to tread lightly on the earth and to heighten the students’ sense of relationship with the site. The building has a passive solar design with cross-ventilation in order to extend the seasons in which heating and cooling are not necessary. This project will be one of the first LEED Certified schools in Connecticut.

This new school building and campus reflect a tremendous amount of thought on the part of teachers, parents and alumni. From the beginning, they were mindful of the real and symbolic importance of schools to those who inhabit them. They understood that the elements of a school’s ‘built world’ could be powerful teaching tools in their own right. At the same time, our 40 years of experience in working with young children has taught them about the essential role that the physical environment plays in piquing a child’s curiosity and shaping his or her sense of well-being.

Ten years in the making, the school’s mission to “take young children seriously” has come vividly to life in a new building and refurbished campus. Here is something much more daring and innovative than the traditional school-as-a-box. With its varied roof planes, the way it nestles into the wooded landscape, and its careful orientation to take full advantage of the sun, the project speaks to a purpose beyond pure functionality: the building and grounds will inspire children to think about how to be good stewards of the Earth’s resources. The new building and campus demonstrates a vision of trying to do it right.


I like the innovation based in one-room schoolhouse. Its one-room allows different kinds of activities and renewals and those are good things to open the minds to create. There is a question that appears to me, immediately: this place does contain the children or is so movable and changeable that is no order on the minds of the little children to take place? I like the skewed forms of the roofs with the trellis and louvers because the design of them allows to create different effects of light and blurring toward the seasons and it learns the past of the time…the differences of the nature.
-Ana Bajcura

The facility is carefully sited to take advantage of a beautiful natural environment. The project thoroughly captured my attention with its design, inclusion of outside with inside, and use of materials that invite children and adults to participate with the building and each other. I would love to experience learning and life in a space that stimulates brain, heart, and exploration.
-Susan Wolff

Matanuska-Susitna Career and Technical High School

Dynamic first impression. Outdoor learning spaces were well thought out. Great concept. A design that should withstand the test of changing times!
-David Smith

Location: Wasilla, Alaska, United States
Designer: McCool Carlson Green Architects
Program: High School/Secondary School
Capacity: 500


Utilizing an integrated parallel planning /design process this dynamic Career/Tech High School is organized around community needs and evolving teaching practices. At once agile and expressive, its learning signature focuses on maintaining relevance in an uncertain future, building vibrant learning networks and creating opportunities for success for all learners.

Design Response
A natural outgrowth of the project vision and planning process, pathways revolve around the Multipurpose/Partners Room which create a strong sense of cohesion within this diverse learning community.

Future Proofing
The school is organized and situated on the site so each pathway can expand incrementally and major expansion can occur to the south, adding pathways and core services. Within the facility, agile spaces allow for economical and daily transformation as well as long term adaptation to changing community needs.

Transformational spaces like adaptable labs, flexible learning areas and reconfigurable MPR/Partners Room respond to changing community needs. Seismic braces located at the perimeter of the modularly designed learning spaces allow for adaptation over time to another program model, such as individual-based learning.

Sustainable features include high performance glass, low maintenance polished concrete floors, prefinished wall materials (less painting), highly efficient mechanical and lighting systems and a readily accessible infrastructure. The existing mature birch forest serves as substantially preserved screened parking, providing buffers to neighborhoods and enhancing recreational opportunities for school programs. Located adjacent to an existing middle school, the program shares athletic fields, further reducing tree cutting requirements.

Inspiring and motivating students, this bold facility brings the power of the Alaskan landscape and innovative technology together. The new facility creates a positive and visible focus for the Borough CTE programs with strong connections to the community and business partners. Both playful and meaningful, students respond with pride to its strong sense of purpose and unique expression.

The school building has been an integral part of the development of a positive student culture, which has been recognized world wide. Open areas of learning, coupled with dedicated career pathways , have focused the students’ attitudes and behaviors. The professional design of the building has promoted the career pathways and career academy model. As many students and parents have said, “it looks like an office or professional building, not a school”. This has helped form a framework for the mission of the school, and helped the students set themselves up for successful careers.


Thoughtful, holistic design to match the unique school program. “Welcoming Drama”—I like their straight talk. In Alaska, there’s a lot of outdoor beauty one has to compete with in order to make an architectural statement.
-Judy Marks

Dynamic first impression. Outdoor learning spaces were well thought out. Great concept. A design that should withstand the test of changing times!
-David Smith

The mixture of organic and man-made ’sculpture’ (and vegetation) wins me over at the front entry-way. Kid-friendly, good to the eyes, logical, and makes me wonder why others aren’t doing more of this. Heck, my local Target Supercenter does…but not local schools. Kudos to them for a small gesture that works. I also agree with David on the outdoor space. Man, did the photographer get that one right, angle-wise. Will it remain open often? Probably not, but when it does — as the Alaskan weather permits — stand back and breathe in! Intrigued by the color/opening transition spaces in the hallways. Striking, sharp, and pulls you in. And it doesn’t feel superficial or cheap, as so many other similar spaces at other schools relying on a big paint can to do all the hard work of design thinking.
-Christian Long


The narratives and design are compelling and inviting. I applaud their work in honoring the natural environment with the built environment in addition to promoting sustainability and renewable energies.
-Susan Wolff

Location: Madrid, Spain
Designer: Pablo Campos - UTOPLAN
Program: Alternative Learning Environment
Capacity: 250


An international Energy company planned a new campus for corporate training, specialized education and research. The proposal is an innovative style of architecture & landscape that will support education, foster human interaction and exemplify sustainability. Renewable energies have become a focus of the project and have been translated into symbolic shapes throughout the campus.

As the context is mainly rustic, the campus will act initially as an “oasis of sustainability”, projecting itself into the surrounding areas (town of San Agustin de Guadalix) as a symbol of progress. But immediately, the presence of the campus will generate a the development of the territory. The site is currently occupied by useless buildings, which will be demolished. However some elements (pieces of the Museum of Energy) will be recycled in the new campus.

Idea of an Educational Campus:
The project is designed under principles of social interaction, commitment to nature and human scale.

Architecture, Nature and Renewable Energy are conceived as themes capable of transmitting values to the student & research community and to the social context.

Traditional typologies used in the design (cloister, quad) create a modern 21st century architectural complex, inspired by heritage.

“Unity in diversity” is expressed through the variation and flexibility of lecture & research units, where innovative pedagogical patterns can be implemented.

Campus is 100% pedestrian. Vehicles are relegated to the perimeter of the site. Architecture works as a “volume protection” to preserve a delicate internal core.

Idea of a Sustainable Campus:
The architect’s main goal is to create an environment that projects both internally and externally the missions of the company: sustainability and renewable energies.

The users of the campus will live there temporarily
to study and research . But it also fosters human interactionand sense of place; somewhere they will like to return…

The campus will receive renewable energy supplies from its own facilities: solar, hydraulic, geothermic and oleic. These will serve resident students as technological research facilities as well.

The campus has 3 areas: Sun Space, Water Space and Wind Space; each hosts a specific functional program, and is related to the 3 renewable energies.

Learning from the sun: The Sun Space evokes cloisters and quads. It has a solar energy R&D garden and a sundial (human gnomon). The stability of the square shape is a metaphor of the stillness of the quad when receiving solar rays.

Learning from the water: The Water Space and triangle shape symbolize unsteadiness and movement, evoking hydraulic energy, and providing bioclimatic conditions (air refreshed when circulating over the water layer).

Learning from the wind: The Wind Space and circular shape symbolize change, dynamism and the mobility of users who will live temporarily in the campus.


Personally, I love the investment in the internal water feature — pretty impressive use of the available site, although if this was in the US that would be impossible without crazy fencing to prevent kids from falling in. If they maintain this feature, it could be quite powerful. Is it just me, or does the lack of railing on the proposed outdoor stairways worth being concerned about in terms of code and building realities? And if that is the case, what else is conceptual without having a chance of being built? I do think, however, that the wind feature in the middle of it is a bit superficial and will hardly be the legitimate pedagogical element that many (too many, frankly) architects claim it will be. The “3D textbook” is almost always naive assumption coupled with marketing arrogance. As an educator, there is hardly time to prove the architect’s theories about education when there is the mandated curriculum that must be honored first. I’m surprised that this campus is so committed to renewable energy, and yet the majority of the existing buildings on the site are being demolished. Might have been interesting to hear the plan for recycling the materials from the old buildings…or why they went that route, rather than innovative renovation.
-Christian Long

An exceptional example of a sustainable campus although it was built by an electricity company. The architectural integration of shapes and the design features of Learning from the Sun, Water and Wind are compelling examples of how simple elements can be used to enhance architecture and learning. I would like to see how the project works for the users after construction and how well it promotes other renewable/sustainable projects in the surrounding area.
-Tiffany Green

The narratives and design are compelling and inviting. I applaud their work in honoring the natural environment with the built environment in addition to promoting sustainability and renewable energies.
-Susan Wolff


This is an excellent design. It just proves that you don’t have to have experience in education buildings to do a very good design. Listening to what the clients are saying and putting yourself in users position are the key.
-Mukund Patel

Location: New Delhi, India
Program: Kindergarten/Preschool/Early Education/Nursery
Capacity: 90


A kindergarten school has been designed with an attempt to form an educational tool with more emphasis on visual education, which promotes learning by analyzing and observing, a process where children learn by having fun. The classroom areas are not closed rooms but have big windows overlooking the corridor and the exterior spaces. This forms a visual link between two spaces where children and parents have views of classroom activities, which greatly expands the volume of teaching space.

The school was the design team’s first project, and the vision was to create a building which characterizes its function, with emphasis on each detail from furniture detailing, to colors of the building, to lighting applications.

The building elevation was derived from basic forms of circles, triangles and squares. Furthermore, it could not resemble a fairly tale exterior. It had to be modern and raw in its appearance.

The use of colors & forms used in exterior was reflected in the interior as well.
The foremost attempt during selection of materials and colors was not to lose the intended character of the building (there was apprehension from the client, fearful that it would look like a mall).

The landscape was also an important aspect of design, creating strong transitions between two spaces through the use of different materials and colors.

Colors have played an important part in defining the character to the building. The selection of colors for the building forms should be pleasing; therefore pastel shades were the obvious choice, avoiding bright or dark colors like red, green, and orange.

Children’s safety is the most important aspect. The entrance of the school is built away from the road so movement can be monitored well. Similarly all the risers in the staircase for steps are only five inches high so children can access them easily. Anti-skid tiles are used to avoid children falling. Railings are designed at children’s height. The swimming pool at the rear side has a monitoring camera which can be viewed from the reception & principal’s room. The depth of the swimming pool is kept no more than 1’-6”. Finally, an accessible ramp from the front of the school leads to the corridor on the ground floor.


I like almost everything about this building. Bold use of colors, but also at the same time being soft, pleasing and interest. Shapes create a stimulating environment. Thoughtful sizing of doors and windows also held young children. External areas are also well thought-out. Security is also considered. There are only two things the designers could have done a little more about. Firstly, there are hardly any computers present. I know this is only Kindergarten, but a few smart boards might have added interest and given a new dimension to children learning. Another the omission is hardly any mention of sustainability. But these are minor points. On the whole a wonderful design. All Kindergarten should be like this.
-Mukund Patel

1st. Such a simple thing, but the celebration of ‘child’ in the large b/w graphics that appear to be ‘windows’ on the elevation literally pulls me into the school. Why don’t more schools realize the community joy/trust that such graphic ‘marketing’ can accomplish? Must all projects be so ‘literal’, so common? Can’t we also celebrate kids in the actual building (not just the PR materials that try to win the project)? Bravo on a small but vital design choice! 2nd. I’m really intrigued by the playful nature of the various ’sides’ of the building. Each — when staring straight on — appears to be an independent side; when at a corner, however, you get a Charlie and the Chocolate Factory spin that will captivate kids without making the adult teachers dizzy. 3rd. I do wish that more organic/natural elements (plants, et al) were used. At first, it didn’t bother me, but once I saw some patches of grass and some potted plants, I began to think that the Hollywood prop designs (pencils and such) seemed a little too much without being paired with more natural elements (that are often more magical to kids than props). 4th. Seeing the pool is another way that I was pulled in and reminded that American schools (and their lawyers) would faint at such a suggestion. Shame. US camps and community centers, yes, but schools, no. Sad. 5th. The first time in my life I wish I could be sent to the Principal’s Office, given the design/layout. Magical. OH, to be an administrator at this school! But only if you were still a child at heart. In fact, that’s what this entire project is: a design with a child at its heart! 6th. Surprisingly, the actual classrooms were the least innovative/imaginative of all the spaces. Odd. Really odd. Seems like the majority of even typical American kindergarten-aged classrooms. But innovative? Not this feature of this project, although I do find it visually solid for kiddos. 7th. OK, the medical clinic wins my vote all by itself. If you/I were 5 years old and felt lousy, this is the sort of room that would offer a placebo effect just being in its embrace. Lovely, fun, life-giving!
-Christian Long

I have mixed feelings about this project. I applaud the bold use of color, and attempts at a playful architecture. It is clear the designers were seeking to create a fun place for kindergartners. However, the design seems to be more about applique than innovation in terms of the ways space might be used. The classrooms are not very imaginative spatially, and looking at the plan, the building is essentially organized as a traditional school, but single loaded. I also wonder (and this is completely subjective) if the playfulness goes a bit too far in certain instances and is a bit overwhelming and disorienting. I could imagine certain kids who struggle to pay attention being hyper-stimulated in this environment, and I am not sure if I could stay in some of those spaces for a whole day, let alone teach there year after year. I also wonder what this building looks like in the context of the neighborhood. I do love the pool, and wish that was an opportunity schools in the US had more often.
-Isaac Williams

I hear you Isaac. Left brain sees through it. Right brain is got tons of eye candy here! The educators admit it was intended to be Disneyland-ish. You would never guess the 3D character of space from the plan. It is single loaded, but that other side is a very exciting outdoor space that feels integral to the design. Could it be that there are just way too many ideas here? What I wonder will these young children remember from their time in this school? I can say this is the most colorful school I’ve ever seen.
-Jeff Lackney




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