Details Matter

Education interiors

PHOTO COURTESY OF WILLIAM MANNING

When it comes to interiors, “the educational program is the primary driver.”

That’s how Richard Best, director of Capital Projects and Planning for the Seattle School District, described not just interiors but the overall approach as the district implements its ongoing Building Excellence Program to renovate or construct anew 17 schools through 2020.

Quality interiors are a key to excellence, and Seattle and other districts are engaged in a perpetual search for the best ways to envision and provide interior designs that are impactful and attractive.

Seattle’s program is a busy one, to say the least. This summer, six schools will open — five new constructions and one renovation — with five additional schools slated to open in 2017, according to Best. He recently shared some insights about new interiors included in the district’s $700-million initiative. Those interiors are part of the design work by at least seven architectural firms in recent or current Building Excellence projects, with one of those, NAC Architecture’s design of the district’s Hazel Wolf K-8 STEM School, earning an international design recognition, Best points out. Other current or recent firms designing for the Building Excellence program include Bassetti Architects, BLRB Architects, Hutteball & Oremus Architecture, TCF Architecture, McGranahan Architects and Mahlum Architects, according to the district.

Renderings of some of the new Seattle interiors show well-lit, airy spaces with plenty of glass and outside views, large and small group learning areas, fresh, subtle lighting and a sleek yet welcoming aesthetic. Among the other interior details described by Best: vivid colors to distinguish grades; durable ceramic tile, polished, stained concrete flooring, carpet tile, broadloom and rubber tile used variously across spaces; and furniture pieces weighing no more than 50 lb. — to help preclude workplace injuries when custodians move the pieces.

Education interiors

PHOTO COURTESY OF NAC ARCHITECTURE

Seattle aside for a moment, various things can make impactful interior statements without taking major construction steps, such as using eye-catching patterns on walls and flooring to indicate functions of spaces, using mirrors to bounce light into double-stacked hallways, placing sinks or large mirrors in hallway nooks outside restrooms to help preclude dawdling, and acknowledging a school’s important role in its community with apropos finishes and materials in the most public areas.

There is the ubiquitous call for flexibility. But hearing that term expressed so often does not make it any less true: technologies, teaching styles, learning preferences, class size mandates, enrollment numbers all change, so it is imperative to design interiors that enable enough options to ride out each wave.

Education interiors

PHOTO COURTESY OF MAHLUM ARCHITECTS

Furniture, manufacturers have noted and emphasized, is a key component, particularly if, for example, a flexible classroom is simply a large, open space with few build-ins and where charging stations form otherwise scarce stationary points. Modular furniture, a variety of hard and soft seating, and wheeled cabinetry that also serve as white boards and room dividers, are among the pieces that can define spaces in flux on a daily or hourly basis.

The right interiors are about the here and now as well as the future, and charting the right way forward requires parameters that include clearly defined needs and a look at plenty of examples. Those are among the points about school interiors shared by Michael Voit, director of Architecture and Design, and Kelly Gaddes, CR’s director of Interior Design, for CR Architecture and Design, which has done a number of K-12 projects in recent years. Those projects include Maple Dale Elementary in Cincinnati’s Sycamore School District, and a major renovation of Hughes STEM High School, also in Cincinnati.

Take for example working with an architect on a new interior. According to Voit, “If a district or school does not have defined needs, ask the architect to develop an overview presentation of classroom options. Share any current requirements and discuss future goals.” At that point, he explains, “The architect should be able to arrange tours to see options first hand and the loan of furniture samples as well.”

So it’s about working with a designer to get your ideas expressed and included, focusing on what types of locations to see first-hand, getting furniture and others samples in and kicking the proverbial tires — or actual wheels — and getting a sense of how or whether pieces, finishes and flooring options might fit into your school of the future.

Education interiors

PHOTO COURTESY OF NAC ARCHITECTURE

Voit sees some shifts in terms of interior spaces and furnishings. “Classroom design and furniture solutions are changing to support power and data connections useable by the entire class,” he says, “In-floor, or even overhead, connections allow for power and data regardless of the needed learning configuration. As technology evolves, the level of integration and access to it will significantly increase, especially for the students.”

Gaddes tells School Planning & Management, “The most prominent trend I’ve seen is the need for flexible, transformative space as a district grows.” There are impactful ways to prepare. As Gaddes explains, “to differentiate spaces and allow for new uses than originally intended, we are providing a more neutral backdrop and adding space definition with furniture.”

There are other ways to define spaces efficiently. For example, “we are using pops of color to tie areas of the school together more subtly than in the past; and small changes to floor patterns and signage serve as visual cues while not distracting from the overall feel of the space,” says Gaddes.

Education interiors

PHOTO COURTESY OF WILLIAM MANNING

Transformative space. Spaces, such as the one pictured above from CR Architecture and Design’s Maple Dale Elementary School in Cincinnati, need to be useful today, yet capable of easy adaptation to accommodate future needs. Furniture and furnishings play a big part in that planning and design, but first, the district must be able to define its current needs and have at least a tentative plan for tomorrow.

Back in Seattle, Best adds another insight about the process of public school interior design. “Details matter, even the minor details,” he adds, “And every detail will potentially affect somebody.”

Some ideas about designing interiors that make positive differences:

  • Do your research. CR’s Kelly Gaddes recommends that district representatives “visit recently completed buildings with a comparable concept to the vision of where the institution is heading.” Field research guides what comes next: Districts can then focus their efforts by developing, Gaddes adds, “teams to research pros and cons and use these to further develop their vision.”
  • Break down silos. Gather a wide range of insights when envisioning and planning for furniture, flooring, finishes and fabric selections, recommends Seattle’s Richard Best.
  • Think in terms of scope, time and budget. CR’s Michael Voit says, “Understand as much as you can about each interrelated item. Provide the architect with your understandings and ask their assistance with defining each variable.”

This article originally appeared in the May 2016 issue of School Planning & Management.

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