the Learning Community
An Interview with Concordia's Steven Bingler
By Randall Fielding
Bingler, AIA, is president of Concordia Inc., a research and planning
firm, and Concordia Architects, an architectural design firm, both based
in New Orleans. The firm has earned a reputation for innovation in the participatory
planning process of educational environments. Steven is a consultant to
the U.S. Department of Education for policy related to the design of
schools as the center of the community. Concordia's approach has received
coverage in the New York Times, The Wall street Journal, the Los Angles
Times and Newsweek.
tools do you use to facilitate the group process?
We break 100 people
[25 students, 25 parents, 25 educators and 25 community members] into 6 groups, each
group with a different task. Then we cross-fertilize those groups. It's
a huge discovery process, where the groups are discovering information
in their community. That information comes in 6 categories: physical,
cultural, social, economic, organizational and educational. The way we
facilitate the process is to discover the information in each one of
those categories, and then integrate all of that information together.
We have maps, field trips, what we
call treasure hunts. We have a treasure card that we give people.
It's an 81/2 x 11 card labeled "Treasure Card" across the top;
instructions are: "go out into the community and find a place that
turns you on, that you can learn from; answer the questions, and take
a camera with
you, take a picture and put it on the
View a Treasure Card
In Stockton, CA, kids went out and came up with the
fitness center. They came back and said, "how come grown-ups get fitness
centers and we get jumping jacks? How come grown-ups get nutritionists
and trainers, and we get phys. ed. teachers?" They invited the fitness
center operator to
come to the meetings. The fitness center operator
"I'd love to build a fitness
center in this neighborhood, but I can't afford the land."
The school district said, "what if
we gave you the land?" And he said:
"You give me the land and I'll
build the building."
The school district is going to get a
free building, and more important, the kids are going to get what they
In Western Placer, they went out on the
treasure hunt, found a stream, and said:
"We could learn a lot from the
stream," and "we would love it if somebody
would give us more access to that stream. How about if we made a bicycle
path that runs along the stream, and thatís how we get to the school?
Because grown-ups have cars and we have bicycles."
They came up with the idea of a bicycle
path along the stream, with little plaques at various stopping points
that describe what's going on in the ecosystem. They imagined their
school to be like a National Park that was integrated by the stream.