Frank M. Locker PhD, AIA, REFP with Steven Olson, AIA
School facilities have always had changing needs. Enrollments fluctuate.
New program initiatives are regularly conceived. The relationship between
schools and their communities is constantly evolving. Technology has altered
the potential and, in some cases, the delivery of education. It would
be difficult to find any school building over five years old with every
space utilized as originally intended. For buildings over forty years
old, it would be impossible.
The challenge to
educators and educational planners is simply this: facilities are expected
to last forty years without major retrofit, but the programs they serve
may change several times in that time period. Once a new building is built,
nobody (not the taxpayers, not the politicians) wants to hear about revised
facility needs for the life of the building. We must create school buildings
poised for change.
tend to think of educational needs as cast in a single slice of time.
Most taxpaying adults are "experts" on schools because they
attended school once; their thoughts of school facilities are highly conditioned
by their experiences as students. Most teachers, when interviewed about
their vision of ideal school needs, create lists of all the things they
haven't had for the last twenty years. Most architects, and even educational
planners, focus attention in their planning processes on current practices
and needs. All of this is historic thinking. We need futurist thinking.
The biggest challenge is to anticipate needs of the future.
DO WE REALLY KNOW
Planning for the long-term success of a new building requires a certain
faith that current trends will endure. While we cannot believe absolutely
in current trends, there are two truths that we must accept:
- The long-term
future will not be like it is today. Education will continue to evolve
and may make facilities as we know them obsolete.
- Schools will continue
to be under-resourced.
The first point may
be debatable, but the second is a truism in education. The combination
of the two demands a search for legitimate flexibility.
The future of education will be defined by the interaction of the following
factors. A well-planned building will anticipate these factors and facilitate
The last fifteen years have been exciting times in education and educational
planning, as the traditional industrial model of education has been challenged
by numerous restructuring concepts. Many of these initiatives are very
provocative: small schools, schools within schools, team teaching, teacher-as-guide.
They show great promise through outcomes such as increased graduation
rates, greater student participation, increased staff satisfaction, more
meaningful connections between staff and students, stronger relationships
to neighborhoods and business communities, and more relevant modeling
of the world outside school.
Yet these restructuring
initiatives, as provocative and promising as they are, currently represent
only a tiny percentage of our K-12 schools. If their impact lives up to
their initial promise, these concepts will pervade existing school curriculums
over the next several decades, placing significant stress on our stock
of older, industrial-model school facilities. This stress will also apply
to many buildings designed today but not yet built since many are tailor-made
to serve practices that may soon change.
School buildings generally outlast enrollment cycles. After two decades
of slow growth to an all-time high, national pre-high school enrollments
will drop slowly over the next decade. High school enrollments will follow
this same pattern, trailing by several years. Planning buildings to anticipate
enrollment drops may create new opportunities to meet school program or
community needs. Not planning for enrollment drops may simply result in
Numbers above in
Planning for a long-term, and somewhat unknown future, requires an adjustment
in thinking. Schools planned today nationally exhibit a progression of
school development. This progression may be used to characterize degrees
of change from traditional practices. The progression identifies five
stages of restructuring, from the most traditional (#1) to the most radical
(#5), which may result in no need for a building at all. The sequential
diagram below expresses the way that any school can be seen as a point
on a continuum, and that, over time, it may evolve from one point to another.
Some aspects of the progression may be highly controversial (virtual learning),
but others, such as project learning and teacher planning centers, are
likely for most schools at some future point. Even if these were not imbedded
in the teaching practices today, the prudent planner would do well to
anticipate their integration in the near future. Preparing for such a
possibility requires "futurist thinking."
Within a School
Teacher Planning Centers
School to Work
School is not
School planning practice has identified needs in terms of isolated functions,
which we then seek to optimize in facility design. This approach tends
to identify differences among functions rather than similarities, and
can result in buildings that become resistant to change.
planning approach would identify similarities of size, location, and environmental
conditioning, and seek to make them as interchangeable and reinterpretable
as possible. Generic spaces would be sought rather than highly specific
spaces. While a "state of the art" Home Economics lab may be
needed now, the bigger issue is " Will Home Economics be taught in
thirty years, and if so, how?" The space may have more prospects
for the future if it can become a science lab or art lab, as program needs
In new schools, planning must be based on communication and flow among
functions. The strategic positioning of functions enhances student identity,
sharing of limited supplies and resources, teacher communication, team
teaching, community use, and orderliness within the building. The correct
location of a function can position it for a viable long-term future as
part of a constellation of spaces serving changing needs.
Technology integration in school buildings has only been an issue for
fifteen to twenty years. It has evolved from isolated desktops, to networked
desktops, and finally to wireless laptops. The future will include tablets,
personal digital assistants, and digital phones as technology evolves
from a limited resource to a pervasive communications and analysis tool.
Just as we would never think of putting all the pencils in one room, we
will no longer think of building computer labs. The nature of libraries
will change. Educational delivery methods and the basics of student-teacher
contact may change as well.
Connection and relevancy to the community it serves is the heart and soul
of any school. Community use of isolated building functions such as gymnasiums
has been a standard in school planning since World War II, but in recent
years expectations, programs, and access have increased significantly.
Schools now need spaces for parent volunteers, mentors and tutors. Schools
now view student placements in community service and job-oriented, hands-on
learning initiatives as critical to their curriculums. The potential of
new and educationally sound school-community relations is now clearly
understood. Each step of enhancement results in new facility needs.
1 & 2. K-8, K-12 Enrollment Charts:
US Dept Education
2. Progression diagram: DeJong & Associates
3. Old & New Thinking: PDT Architects