Planning for Schools of the Future
- By George Hamaty, David C. Lines
- May 1st, 1999
Good school planning and design is dictated by the design principle
that form follows function. Unfortunately, all too often schools have been designed that
failed to respond to the school districts' present, let alone their future, educational
Functionally our schools of the future will be shaped architecturally by the decisions
that will be made by professional educators, boards of education, and communities
regarding instructional programs and process.
In order to program new facilities properly and communicate their needs to design
professionals, educators and others involved in creating the educational vision of a
school district must be prepared to look into the future to determine what kinds of
outcomes they desire for students. What and how should students learn? How will they
interface with each other and their environment? How will technology affect the learning
environment? What should students be able to accomplish and ultimately what type of
environment will be necessary to make that possible?
Developing the Vision
The concept of visioning has been around for the past several decadesÑ first in the
private sector, where large corporations developed vision statements, mission statements,
and action plans to accomplish their goals and objectives.
Over the past several years, school districts have also started to use a similar
process. However, in the race to meet construction deadlines, this early planning step in
designing a new school, additions, or realigning existing space has often been overlooked.
One of the most important steps to take early in the planning process is to discuss
educational and instructional outcomes without ever talking about the building itself.
Once those programs are determined and the instructional delivery systems have been
established to accomplish these goals, the design professionals will then be in a better
position to develop a physical plan for a facility that will allow those outcomes to
become a reality.
There are a multitude of educational concepts and considerations that can affect the
planning and design of a facility. The following are some examples and scenarios that
should be part of a planning group's considerations.
Educational Delivery Systems
Issues such as departmentalization and interdisciplinary approach, grade level teams,
multi-age grouping, and performance-based learning must be carefully reviewed.
The issue of creating smaller units within the school needs to be considered.
Historically, large high schools have warehoused large numbers of students. Clusters are
being created within schools to create a more comfortable environment for students, one
where students are treated as individuals rather than numbers. As a result of this trend,
such strategies as house plans, schools within a school, and other concepts have been
Schools for the future should consciously take these delivery systems Ñand others Ñ
into account in the initial planning stages so that they can be provided for when the
school is built.
The Learning Space
In the next several decades schools will need to provide flexible classroom space to
foster participatory learning. Students will become active participants in the learning
process and will be required to apply the concepts they have learned in an
application-driven model. In order to facilitate this, the learning environment must lend
itself to data collection, the incorporation of technology, and flexible arrangements that
will support both large and small group instruction. Teachers will act as facilitators and
classroom configurations will have to reflect this form of delivery.
Students may work in different sized groups Ñ receiving instruction from assistants or
aides under the direction of a teacher. To accommodate these teaching methods and learning
styles, classrooms may need to be larger or of varied configurations.
There may be a demand for more spaces serving different functions and incorporating
multiple work centers. The need to have classrooms that will create and enhance an
atmosphere that permits cooperative learning, individualized instruction, and authentic
assessment, while at the same time providing unique space for teachers to work with
various sized groups of students, is on the horizon.
Specialty Areas and Ancillary Space
Specialized classrooms as well as ancillary space will continue to be a long-term
requirement. Since programs will continue to evolve and change over time, flexible
facilities will become imperative.
Hands-on learning has become the focus in science. Classrooms will be developed to
promote data collection by teams of students working on various experiments. Space and
storage systems will need to be available for this process.
Students with outstanding potential in various specialty areas will be doing long-term
projects that will also require suitable space in order to accommodate these activities
and individualized instruction. Students will have to develop the ability to become
"lifelong learners," developing portfolios to give a potential employer.
For many schools, the library media center will become the educational hub of the
building and will support various types of learning activities. In order to accommodate
each of these scenarios, it will be important to design space for media centers, science,
mathematics, language, and technology, that will be flexible and large enough to permit
exploration and discovery.
We also need to take a look at space outside of the regular classroom where teachers have
the opportunity to cluster children so they can work with groups that exceed the normal
classroom size. It is clear that those types of spaces should create an effective social
environment for positive interaction. Providing quality space is an important factor.
At the same time, buildings have to be planned with a clear understanding that
supervision and safety are important. Therefore, any design must take into account the
ability of the administration and staff to supervise students and to make sure that the
environment is safe both in and out of the classroom. Particularly important will be
appropriate building circulation patterns, since a large number of discipline problems
occur outside of the classroom.
It's important to provide students with an inviting cafeteria/commons area if we want
them to interact in a civilized manner. Alternative food delivery systems, table layouts,
quality of finishes, and colors can all help to create an atmosphere conducive to
developing desired social behavior.
In essence, a school that creates an inviting atmosphere motivates students to take
care of it and be proud to be a part of it.
Community Involvement and Access
We know that nothing within the public school setting is done in isolation. Therefore, the
community will be intimately involved in discussions and setting future directions for use
and design of our educational facilities.
One of the general trends is that school districts are concerned about making their
buildings accessible to the community for use after hours for sports, drama, continuing
education, and other community activities. In response to this, many districts will
attempt to establish community-oriented schools.
These schools will be open later in the evening, perhaps on a 12-month basis, and will
require public accessibility. Based on this, the facility will have to be designed to
permit adults as well as students to use various aspects of the building at a variety of
times, while still maintaining security. In addition, mechanical control and monitoring
systems will have to be sophisticated enough to allow for efficient control of the
buildings' mechanical and electrical systems.
Another concept that is more widely accepted is the involvement of community service
agencies to aid in student development. Representatives of these groups are currently
housed in many schools and are interacting with the professional staff to address the
needs of students and families effectively.
By coordinating the efforts of schools and community agencies, additional resources are
being provided in this most critical area. This trend will develop further and space will
need to be made available. Once again, these services need to be located in an accessible
place for parents and other groups of individuals from the community.
Technology is a key tool for teachers to use in the delivery of the educational program.
Any building program under consideration must take into account the development of an
appropriate backbone and infrastructure as well as a system that will be flexible to
provide for each of the issues surrounding technology in the foreseeable future. The
selection of the appropriate system becomes one of critical importance.
There will be a major emphasis on improved communications and voice/ video and data
systems will be designed to allow teachers to connect readily to administrators, students,
Teachers will be able to communicate with each other and have instant access to
information and new teaching techniques. Networks, e-mail, and conference systems will
allow students to move beyond the classroom. Videoconferencing and interactive distance
learning will allow for more customized information and learning. The emphasis will be on
individual learning and students may expect highly individualized approaches, while
receiving education at their own pace.
There is no question that over time, a school's vision and the actual programs used to
implement that vision will be changed and modified. However, if the plan is carefully
made, facilities will be designed that will be flexible and adaptable enough to be changed
to meet future needs.
With the challenges facing the educational community, a building program is a golden
opportunity to restructure schools to better meet the needs of students and educational
Districts recognizing these possibilities will begin to plan wisely by creating their
vision using the resources of both the professional staff and the community as they work
to meet the challenges of the 21st century.