School Designs Change with the Times

By Sally Huguley 
Published Sept. 20, 2011

If back-to-school brings visions of the proverbial little red schoolhouse, better think again. Today’s schools are more a combination of brain research, educational advancements, sustainability and technology, bringing new challenges for school architects and designers. This amphitheater was built into the design of the Center for Knowledge as another area of learning. 

“It’s really like the chicken and the egg,” said architect Doug Quackenbush, as educators and architects collaborate on designing new schools using resources and ideas from both fields. “We give school districts good advice on a fully performing 21st century school while they inform us of new teaching techniques and educational trends.”

School construction is big business for architects and construction companies. In the 2008 general election, voters approved a total of $886 million in new school construction in just three Midlands school districts. Some of that is still in the pipeline, including high school No. 5 in Richland District 2.

Schools of the past were more “inward focused,” Quackenbush said, with small windows and no common areas. “Windows were thought to be a distraction.”

Now the latest brain research finds students learn best in natural daylight, which keeps them more alert. Also changes in pedagogy require more space for students to collaborate, the Columbia architect said, meaning more community areas and less the confines of a typical classroom.

The new Muller Road Middle School, designed by Quackenbush Architects + Planners with help from a Chicago-based school architecture expert, is an example of natural lighting and a courtyard to pull in the outdoors. It also is designed to allow space for “smaller learning communities, which teachers find more nurturing in a large school setting” he said, “The design trend is toward what is natural and organic. The factory model is outdated.”

Chris Caudle literally has seen the old and the new of school design. Caudle, owner of AAG Associates in Beaufort, renovated Richland School District Two’s 120-year-old Little Red School House, which shows students what a typical school looked like in rural South Carolina more than a century ago. In contrast, Caudle’s firm is working on the latest in school design for Richland Two’s High School # 5 to be named Westwood High opening in fall 2012.

A key to school design today is anticipating future needs.

“Districts want the schools to be flexible. With technology evolving, we need to adapt and not get behind. We need to plan for things we can’t even envision yet – buildings that easily can be modified,” Caudle said, adding that this means projecting education needs 50 years into the future.

Read more about this story in the Sept. 19 issue of the Columbia Regional Business Report.



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