With the amount of time that children spend in school, it’s crucial that the buildings in which they’re learning promote wellness and sense of community, in addition to prescribed curricula. From classroom layout to integration of educational tools in campus architecture to external outreach, here are five ways architects can improve schools to allow growth beyond the schoolhouse walls.

  1. Embed learning opportunities in sustainable architecture. When founders of Mundo Verde, a bilingual public charter school in Washington, DC, were handed a 1920s-era school building as their site, they might not have suspected that the school grounds themselves would provide educational experience. But the school’s goals of fostering future environmental stewards was reinforced by its architecture: Local practice Studio Twenty Seven Architecture renovated the nearly century-old facility for use with grades 1-5, updating it to LEED Gold standards, and added a pre-K and kindergarten annex designed to achieve LEED Platinum certification.
  2. Foster interaction. Shared learning spaces paired with classrooms reduce monotony by providing a variety of educational settings at the Northwood Elementary School in Mercer Island, Washington, designed by Mahlum Architects. Brainstorming over lunch happens in a new discovery lab, which allows dining within a library-slash-makerspace and promotes impromptu creativity.
  3. Create unexpected adjacencies. Incorporating physical education into children’s routines will set them up for a lifetime of healthy practice. And it’s equally important to stimulate the brain through artistic expression to develop a sound mind within a sound body. That’s the combination of purpose found in the Winsor School’s Lubin O’Donnell Center for Performing Arts and Wellness designed by Boston-based William Rawn Associates. The mixed-use facility maximizes program—including a 515-seat theater, squash and basketball courts, and flexible spaces that can accommodate dance practices, music rehearsals, or wellness exercises—on a constrained urban site that maintains clarity despite its blend of uses.
  4. Use landscape as an educational tool. At the Dwight-Englewood School Hajjar STEM Center in New Jersey, classrooms aren’t just indoors. A microclimate garden, located just outside the AP Biology lab, and a bioswale area are two of the landscape features promoting outdoor learning that Gensler included in its design.
  5. Engage your community. The social fabric of East Baltimore continues onto the campus of the Henderson-Hopkins School, which relates to its urban setting with a grid of learning facilities scaled to resemble area rowhouses. Designed by Rogers Partners, the campus also includes early childcare facilities and a family health center to help address the needs of the local community.

About the author: Deane Madsen, Assoc. AIA, is a writer and architectural photographer based in Washington, DC. He is the founder of Brutalist DC and the former associate editor of design for Architect Magazine.

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