Building Schools That Last

GOOD Education recently ran an article with the title "The 'Most Advanced High School' in the United States to be Demolished".  Being interested in school architecture and learning space design, this certainly caught my eye.  Now, this article is not really about school architecture, but, racial issues and motivations aside, we can learn something about school learning space and design from it.

To me, it seems like there is a real challenge involved in designing a school that needs to last 40-50 years when you have no idea what education and learning will look like even five years out.  Unless, of course, you just assume it will look like it always has, classrooms, desks, whiteboards, teacher at the front of the room, etc.  Which is exactly what we seem to do.  

 We build spaces that are comfortable and familiar (i.e. the traditional classroom). I did a quick google image search for "classroom" and found this picture... from 1933.  Does it look familiar? Of course it does.

What is funny (to me, anyway), is that there was a caption under this picture that said:

this is a view of a classroom taken from inside. The classrooms back in 1933 were very different to the classrooms of today.


I'm not saying that it is easy to build a school designed to educate and promote meaningful learning, but we could help the process by figuring out what the goal and purpose of school is in the first place... and then build the spaces that will help us meet that goal.  I know one thing for sure, our learning spaces need to be flexible and capable of being molded and shifted when the need arises.  They need to allow for student creativity and expression.  The need to allow for spontaneous and structured collaboration.  They need to allow for the changes that are, and have always been, inevitable in teaching and learning. They need to allow for an unknown future.  In short, our school buildings cannot be a barrier to advances in teaching and learning. 

Having this discussion about "what's the purpose of school?" will also provide the guidance and the direction for teachers and educators... helping to ensure that the amazing learning spaces we design, with all the functionality and tools we will certainly fill them with, do not go to waste.

Side note: I hope that LA's new $600 million dollar high school (yes, you read that right) will last and produce the types of learners that we need... I won't hold my breath about it though.  My guess is that the school is simply more of the same; what you expect to see in a school.  Real change requires more than a fresh coat of paint and a shiny new building (even one that sounds as cool as that one).