5 Ways to Improve School Safety through Site Design

Physical design features are only one piece of enhancing school safety and security that we—as designers—can directly play a part in. School Corporations regularly tell us student and staff safety are their top priority when taking on a new project, as it is ours as well.

School safety includes crime prevention as well as traffic safety. Looking at the outside of a school, we have 5 main ways to improve school safety through site design alone:

1. Fencing

  • Fencing helps to designate a sense of place, maintain lines of site, and restrict access to areas of the school that might not be highly visible.
  • Fences around playground areas help keep kids in a safe area while running around at recess, separate the “little kids” from the “big kids”, and keeps others out. Including fencing around vehicular areas, providing separation between walkways and drop-off/pick-up areas, can help to keep kids from darting into traffic.
  • Choose a material that is easy to see through but difficult to climb or vandalize—often wrought iron or ornamental fencing.
West Lafayette New Intermediate School - Fenced Playground

West Lafayette New Intermediate School – Fenced Playground

2. Security system

  • Include real-time security on the premises that local police can have access to in the event of an emergency.
  • Making the security cameras highly visible can also deter criminal activity before it starts.

3. Management of access points

  • Create a welcoming main entrance to the building through a secure vestibule which leads directly to the main reception area. Access into school corridors are controlled from here. Including card readers to monitor when a door is being opened and by who also helps with access control.
  • Limit the number of access points so school personnel can better monitor the comings and goings throughout the school day.
  • Physically separate school bus drive, parent drop-off/pick-up routes, and parking areas to help alleviate the chance of traffic-related issues. Clearly mark all separate areas with signs and include traffic flow directions for clear orientation. This is helpful in guiding students, parents, and emergency personnel.
Battell Elementary School, School City of Mishawaka – Secure Entry Technology

Battell Elementary School, School City of Mishawaka – Secure Entry Technology

4. Natural surveillance – maximize visibility from within

  • Give people who might consider committing a crime on the school grounds a sense that they are being watched. This alone can help prevent crimes from occurring in the first place.
  • There should be clear lines of sight from road/parking lot/entry for school personnel. Make sure any landscape elements are maintained and trimmed regularly so bushes or trees do not block this line of sight.
  • Include windows in main office area so staff can monitor parking lots and entry walkways.
  • Sufficient exterior lighting eliminates potential hiding spots and increases overall visibility from school personnel.

5. Territoriality

  • By creating a well-defined and appealing exterior, incoming visitors will know they are coming into a protected, cared for, and proud space. This can be done through:
    • Clear, recognizable main entry.
    • Exterior door numbering for the public and authorities in emergency.
    • Utilizing school colors to define walking spaces from vehicular traffic areas.
    • Landscaping elements like shrubs, trees, stones, and fencing that are low to the ground for visibility and well maintained.
    • Site signage that clearly identifies school name, front entry, and other specific destinations such as athletic fields and performing arts entries.
  • Ongoing maintenance is important, such as repairing and updating doors and windows before they begin to “really show their age”.
  • Landscape elements should be low to the ground or have a high canopy to prevent spaces that can’t be supervised or monitored.

LaPorte High School – Performing Arts Center Entrance

There are many approaches to take when it comes to improving school safety through design, this is in no way a be-all-end-all list. Each school has a unique site and a specific set of needs, but these five simple tactics can be used as part of an overall strategy.

It is also important to note there are no school safety measures that are 100% reliable—despite the best plans and precautions. Please reach out if you are interested in learning about what is best for your school, have questions, or would like additional safety tips. Our K-12 team is ready to work for and with you!

The Importance of STEM in K-12 Schools

Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) might seem like a buzz word or a trend these days, but demand for careers in these fields are steadily increasingly. Our economy and overall well-being depend heavily on STEM-related occupations—whether it is computer programming, manufacturing, civil engineering, or general family medicine. Getting kids involved and interested in STEM-related activities at a young age, even if they don’t pursue a STEM degree in the future, teaches them problem-solving skills, how to interact with technology, and instills creativity.

Here are some quick stats from the Smithsonian Science Education Center on the importance of STEM:

STEM stats

How can STEM-related fields help the world?
  • Improving sanitation and access to clean water to the 780 million people who currently without clean water
  • Balancing our footprint as energy demand and consumption is increasing at rapid rates
  • Improving agricultural practices to help feed the 870 million people in the world suffering from hunger
  • Fighting global climate change
  • Caring for a large aging population – just think about the 74 million Baby Boomers who are alive today

To get children today ready for a career in the future, it is imperative we pique their interest in the STEM field as early as possible. Getting a program set in place in the classroom is a perfect way to start. So how can we, as architects and engineers, help schools with STEM programs? Take a look at two examples below to see how we’ve helped our Owners prepare kids for their futures:

 

Best Buy Teen Tech Center at the MLK Community Center

STEM - Best Buy Teen Tech Center at the MLK Community Center

The Martin Luther King Community Center is a profoundly important community resource in the Butler-Tarkington neighborhood in Indianapolis. Through a grant from Best Buy and local support, the MLK Center was able to make a considerable investment in access to technology. In order to help this project, come to fruition, Schmidt Associates was hired to take the dream and translate it into a built reality. This Teen Tech Center gives teens a safe place to go to learn, grow, create, and prepare for their futures.

The Teen Tech Center provides training and internship opportunities, where teens can learn about robotics, 3D design, music production, and more. Nationwide, there are currently 22 Best Buy Teen Tech Centers – a number Best Buy hopes to triple by 2020. 95% of teens who attend these centers plan on pursuing education after high school, and 71% plan to pursue a field in STEM. As Indianapolis welcomes more and more jobs in the STEM fields, this center will make sure the future workforce is well-prepared for a brighter future.

 

Decatur Township School for Excellence – Innovation and Design Hub

STEM - Decatur Township School for Excellence – Innovation and Design Hub

The MSD of Decatur Township is a diverse school district, offering innovative initiatives to their students and members of their community. This new, state-of-the-art Innovation and Design Hub is available for students of all grade levels, teachers, and faculty district-wide to use while expanding their learning capabilities for future careers and pathways in STEM and other areas.

The space includes interactive promethium boards, 3D printers, audio/visual production, a computer programming lab, and more technologies to help students develop better computer, problem-solving, and design thinking skills. It is also flexible in design, replicating an open lab concept to host many people at one time while also providing quiet environments and presentation spaces. Students have the chance to work directly with local industry partners to further increase their knowledge and experience specific to their chosen pathway.

 

If you have any questions about how to get your school or community center equipped with STEM-related spaces, please reach out!

“One of the things that my experience has taught me is that if you are trained as a scientist in your youth – through your high school and college – if you stay with the STEM disciplines, you can learn pretty much all of the subjects as you move along in life. And your scientific disciplines play a very important role and ground you very well as you move into positions of higher and higher authority, whatever the job is.”

– Indra Nooyi, CEO of Pepsi

Top 6 Things to Know when Considering Adaptive Reuse

We have all heard the real estate mantra “Location, location, location!” However, great location does not also lead to perfect buildings. In fact, oftentimes the least perfect building is situated right on the site you want. And while some may consider a total demolition and rebuild as the only option, there are oftentimes a lot of arguments for adaptive reuse. Buildings that have been neglected, abandoned, or modified over the years are all great candidates for this type of project. Through adaptive reuse, older historic buildings can be restored – bringing back their charm and unique characteristics through careful planning and strategic design.

St. Joseph Brewery & Public House - Prior to Renovation

St. Joseph Brewery & Public House – Prior to Renovation

St. Joseph Brewery & Public House - After

St. Joseph Brewery & Public House – After

If you’re considering adaptive reuse for your next project, here are the top six things you need to know:

  1. Land Availability. When land in the area you want is hard to come by, adaptive reuse is a great option. Rather than contributing to urban sprawl, or moving to a less than desirable location, revitalizing a building in need allows you to conserve space. This type of project is one of the best ways to keep our cities and towns walkable and vibrant.
  2. Environmental Conservation. While the easy solution often appears to be building from scratch, the truth is this type of thinking can cause a lot of complications down the road, including added cost. Remember in elementary school when they taught us “reduce, reuse and recycle”? The first step in reducing our environmental footprint is to reduce our use of materials. Adaptive reuse is a choice to care for the buildings that have already been built and to help us get out of the mindset of constantly consuming. If there’s one thing we will never get more of, it’s land.
  3. Historic Consideration. One of the beauties of working with historic buildings is that you constantly discover hidden treasures. From unique features to hard-to-come-by materials, many historic buildings are proof we really “don’t build ‘em like we used to.” Adaptive reuse not only allows us to preserve a part of history, but it also allows projects to take advantage of these ‘trademarks’ of historic buildings, showcasing them now and into the future. In some cases, adaptive reuse is the only option, especially when you are dealing with buildings that are preserved and protected by organizations, such as historical societies.
  4. Reimagining Function. Although adaptive reuse strives to preserve many of the architectural features of buildings, there is a great deal of reimagining that can take place throughout the project. Buildings built for a certain prior use do not need to continue that use to be successful. Old chapels can become inns, water towers can be converted into apartments, and industrial buildings transformed to residential homes. When the location is right, and you mix in a little creativity – anything is possible.
  5. Future Accommodation. Needs are constantly changing, which is something adaptive reuse understands. Just because older buildings – even ones only a few decades old – may no longer meet the standards or desires of today’s businesses and property owners, doesn’t mean they should be written off. Adaptive reuse allows for change, while still being mindful of what already exists. Adaptive reuse protects the future, ensuring resources, including land, aren’t wasted or taken for granted.
  6. Intelligent Reconciliation. When done well, adaptive reuse is the bridge that connects past to present, history to future. Adaptive reuse projects can bring the best of modern-day technologies and innovations to beautiful, historic buildings in prime locations. This type of holistic approach ensures existing buildings and materials are honored without sacrificing today’s needs and styles. Intelligent reconciliation also happens when architectural firms work on behalf of clients to communicate plans with the community, getting the proper permissions and permits to move forward with the project.

Adaptive reuse isn’t always the best solution, but more and more often we believe it’s an option that should be seriously considered. A smart way to conserve materials, protect the environment, and preserve the past, adaptive reuse can be the solution you’re looking for, especially when you’re sold on a building’s location or charm.

 

Becoming an Interior Designer

Interior Designer
While our interior designers do make great material and color selections, they do much more than that.

We all have our stereotyped image of what interior designers do from design shows, design magazines, and social media. However, the reality is much different.

A common misconception is that interior designers only select interior finishes, but structural knowledge of the building is necessary (and required) for understanding how interior spaces can be manipulated. Interior Designers think about the way a space functions and design it accordingly. They take a building shell and create a safe, functional, aesthetically pleasing space specific to each owner, in coordination with the architects and engineers.

From fixtures and furniture, to materials and finishes, Interior Designers help spaces come alive. A wide range of product knowledge is required for interior designers to make the most informed and appropriate decisions during the selection process.

But how to do they learn these skills? Registered Interior Designers begin with an education—either a Bachelor’s or an Associate’s degree in Interior Design.

There are many reputable universities with great Interior Design programs, but it is important for future students to do their research and find the right fit for what they need.

The Council for Interior Design Accreditation (CIDA) is an independent, non-profit accrediting organization for Interior Design programs in the United States and internationally. Not all Interior Design programs are CIDA-accredited—and this is a great way to help students compare programs. Some students will choose to enroll in a non-accredited program and still be just as successful; or some will start at one and move to the accredited program to finish. Every student has their own path, and there are a lot of options.

However, just because a college degree has been obtained, one is still not a registered interior designer.

Any professional with a degree in Interior Design looking to gain registration (not everyone chooses to pursue registration), must then begin gaining professional experience (3,520-5,280 hours, depending on the degree). This professional experience must be in the Interior Design field to qualify for sitting for the exam.

At different times throughout their education and professional experience, professionals must sit for all sections of the National Council for Interior Design Qualification (NCIDQ) exam.

This exam is broken into three sections:

  • The Practicum Exam (PRAC) – 4 Hours
    • Codes and Standards
    • Building Systems & Integration
    • Programming & Site Analysis
    • Contract Documents
  • Fundamentals Exam (IDFX) – 3 Hours
    • Design Communication
    • Building Systems & Construction
    • Programming & Site Analysis
    • Construction Drawings & Specification
    • Human Behavior & the Design Environment
    • Furniture, Finishes, Equipment, & Lighting
    • Technical Drawing Conventions
  • Professional Exam (IDPX) – 4 Hours
    • Professional Practice
    • Building Systems and Integration
    • Contract Administration
    • Project Coordination
    • Contract Documents
    • Product and Material Coordination
    • Codes and Standards

Each section is taken, and passed or failed, individually. Once the individual passes all sections and has met all the other requirements, he/she can apply for registration with the State of Indiana. Once this final hurdle has been cleared, the celebration can commence, and one can officially call him/herself a Registered Interior Designer.

Continued Education Units (CEU) are also required, similar to what other professions must do to keep their registration updated. Once CEU’s are obtained, each Registered Interior Designer is responsible for tracking and meeting the credit requirements.

 

Also see what it takes to become an architect.

Becoming an Architect

Becoming an Architect

 

A lot goes into becoming a licensed architect.

As many already know, hiring Schmidt Associates for a facility project is a “no brainer”. However, have you thought about the process your designers go through in order to be qualified to design your facilities?

Though we can stereotype and say that all architects loved building with Legos when they were children, that is not entirely true. And it certainly takes more than a keen awareness of plastic to become licensed within the profession. Architects are problem-solvers. They go beyond the placement of bricks and mortar to get to the deeper need of an Owner so they can solve existing problems and anticipate future needs. Architects are also responsible for helping protect the health, safety, and welfare of the public.

But how to do they learn these skills? A college degree from a National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB) accredited program is the first step in the process of becoming a licensed architect in Indiana. There are three types of professional architectural degrees in the United States:

  • Bachelor of Architecture (B. Arch), typically a 5-year-program
  • Master of Architecture (M. Arch), typically a 2-year program
  • Doctor of Architecture (D. Arch), varies

Alternatively, students can also pursue a 4+2 program. Using this method, students can get a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in Architecture and follow up with a 2-year Master of Architecture.

However, just because a college degree has been attained, one is still not licensed.

Any professional looking to gain licensure (not everyone who graduates with an architectural degree chooses to pursue licensure), must then begin the Architectural Experience Program (AXP). This experiential process requires a minimum of 3,740 hours of hands-on training in Indiana (some states vary) where professionals are directed to complete 96 tasks across six practice areas:

  • Practice Management – 160 required hours
  • Project Management – 360 required hours
  • Programming and Analysis – 260 required hours
  • Project Planning and Design – 1,080 required hours
  • Project Development and Documentation – 1,520 required hours
  • Construction Evaluation – 360 required hours

At least half of this documented experience (1,860 hours) must be achieved under the supervision of a licensed architect while working for an architecture firm.

In addition to the education and experience, architectural professionals must also take and pass the Architectural Registration Examination (ARE)—a six-part, 21-hour exam to assess an architect’s skills and ability to protect the welfare of those they serve. Topics include:

  • Practice Management
  • Project Management
  • Programming & Analysis
  • Project Planning & Design
  • Project Development & Documentation
  • Construction & Evaluation

Each section is taken (and passed or failed) individually, and the order in which the exams are taken is up to the individual professional. Once they pass all sections and have met all the other requirements, he/she can apply for a license. After this final hurdle has been cleared, the celebration can commence and one can officially call him/herself an architect!

But training for an architect does not end there. In order to stay current with new technologies, construction methodologies, and current code requirements, architects must participate in continuing education courses. In Indiana, architects must obtain 24 learning units—16 of which must be focused on health, safety, and welfare (HSW) topics—every two years.

And here you thought your architect just did really well with Legos.

 

Form, Function, and Funds: The Next Wave of Sustainability

When it comes to sustainable design, perhaps sustaining the attention of consumers is as important as the design itself. While sustainability may be written off as one of many “green trends”, it plays an enormous role in shaping how our future looks – both from the buildings we inhabit to the overall planet we live on. To ensure the concept of sustainable design stays at the forefront of the public’s attention, it needs to achieve a few important things – function, form, and funds.

And, of course, it needs to stay interesting.

If there’s one thing the public loves, it’s stories they can talk about and share with their friends, family, and followers. It’s a benefit to the sustainable movement, then, that so many forward-thinking brands and industries are finding ways to captivate and engage with their products and ideas.

Perhaps with some thanks to social media, sustainability in design has received a greater amount of publicity in recent years with eye-catching articles including: “Ecological Packaging for Fries Made from Potato Skins”, an “Initiative to Turn Space Waste into ‘Ingredients for Something Special’”, the O-Wind Turbine that “captures energy even in the middle of dense cities”, a “maternity facility in rural Uganda is entirely self-sustaining”… the list goes on and on.

What these headlines have in common, besides being tempting to click on, is the desire to improve the environment by connecting with real people in real-life situations. While the eco-packaging for french fries is a novel idea, the self-sustaining maternity building in Africa demonstrates how sustainable thinking can save lives – and right now, not decades from now.

Despite the environment’s warning signs, many people still don’t understand the need to act responsibly now. This lack of urgency can leave sustainable design in the realm of french fry containers – a cool thought, an example of what can be done, but no obligation to do anything right now. So, when stories like O-Wind Turbine and the maternity facility make headlines, the sustainable design movement becomes more tangible and grounded, which is exactly what’s needed for sustainability to keep its forward momentum.

Once attention has been captured, sustainable designers need to follow the three Fs to move from the realm of “someday” to “today”:

Form

Sustainable designs may take on more unique forms simply because of the unique goals and aspirations embedded into the design, whether it be recyclability, high mileage, general efficiency, solar orientation etc. This distinction is advantageous because the novel form can capture attention and thereby create conversation. The simple fact of being different provides a clue that perhaps there’s more than meets the eye. When the form of a sustainable design is unique, people begin to ask questions, and these questions in turn can lead to education. Education is the backbone of every movement if it indeed is to be taken seriously and withstand the test of time.

Function

In successful design, the function and form of any design must work in tandem, or there will be little hope in it ever enjoying the light of day. When form and function complement each other, they become a beacon for the entire sustainable design movement, showing the world how promising the latest innovations can be. Often in successful sustainable design, the function serves as a determiner for much of the object’s form. For example, within architecture, the orientation, shape, and angles of the overall building layout should work in conjunction with the sun’s daily patterns; the placement and proportion of the windows, as well as the depth of shading devices and screening elements, should capture sunlight from desirable directions while also limiting sunlight from other less-desirable directions. Additionally, the angle of the roof may be utilized to harvest rainwater for purposes both in and surrounding the building. Other sustainable measures include recycled finishes, lighting with automatic sensors, native landscaping, natural drainage, permeable pavers in parking lots, etc.

Funds

Once form and function have been accomplished and the public’s attention has been captured, funds are the last item to consider. For many, sustainable design is a nice idea, but they often assume the cost to complete a sustainable project is out of financial reach. A primary concept within sustainability is weighing the initial up-front costs versus the life-cycle costs. Some sustainable design measures may cost more at the project’s outset yet actually save money over the entire life of the building. Some examples within architecture include solar panels, efficient HVAC equipment, sensored lighting, rainwater collection/harvesting, etc. These features must be carefully examined in light of the project’s long-term goals. Making sure there is an affordability to every project, that there is realistic access to obtaining the necessary funds, and balancing the costs over the life of the building, are all essential.

For sustainable designers, understanding the importance of getting the public to embrace new ideas and projects is easy. But, convincing the public of the importance behind sustainability requires thought, planning, and adhering to the concept of the Three Fs of Sustainable Design: form, function, funds.

Workforce Skills Training in K-12 Facilities

Since 2011, 11.5 million jobs have been created in the United States for workers with education past high school. However, only about 47% of working-aged adults in Indiana currently have degrees. One way to fill this gap is to include workforce-ready spaces and programs directly within high schools. Think auto shops, TV broadcasting spaces, welding labs, hair salons, etc.

We touch on why it is important to teach these real-world skills, the different focus areas, design considerations, and our project experience in this magazine below:

If you have questions or want to know how we can help with your next project, reach out!

Designing & Building Successful Co-Working Spaces

Like mentioned in my previous blog, co-working spaces are becoming increasingly popular in the United States. Although Europe has been ahead of the game when it comes to fostering a healthy work environment for individuals who don’t work a standard in-office, 9-to-5 type of job, the United States is in no way behind in terms of innovation. New co-working spaces popping up in major cities, like New York, Denver, and San Francisco, are demonstrating how to be more than just “a space to work together”. These spaces are being designed and built in such a way that creativity, collaboration and productivity aren’t just cultivated – they’re actually given the environment and community they need to thrive.

So, what are some elements that you should take into consideration if you’re thinking about designing and building a co-working space?

1. Get Connected. Create a co-working space that allows for people to connect to the internet with as much speed as possible via Wi-Fi and hardwire. For some people, a Wi-Fi-only co-working space isn’t as appealing as it might sound. When designing a co-working space, ensure that gives access to both types of connections.

2. Provide Options. Different types of work require different types of settings. And, work for everyone who uses your space might change from day-to-day. It’s important to offer options for people to choose from as needed – dedicated desks for focused work, library or co-working tables for coffee-shop work, and even small offices for private meetings and phone calls.

3. Offer Storage. The best co-working spaces give people a place to store the items they don’t need while working, like workout gear or after-work clothes. When designing your co-working space, be sure to include a locked storage space for members who would want to take advantage of that courtesy.

4. Consider Dimensions. The dimensions of your co-working space need to be just right in order for people to actually enjoy what they came to do: work. In most instances, you’ll want to opt for higher ceilings (ideally a minimum of 10 to 15 feet) and co-working desks that are at least 3 feet wide by 2 feet deep. If you want to offer dedicated desks for members, these should be at least 2 feet by 5 feet. Larger multi-person work stations are often built to be 6 feet by 6 feet with filing cabinets and storage built-in below.

5. Create a Courtyard. If you want your co-working space to be a place that people really enjoy working at, then you need to create some sort of indoor or outdoor courtyard in your design. This open space, which is ideally centrally located and connected to the main work areas, drastically improves the overall environment. It gives people a sense of community because it’s a great opportunity to mingle – if everyone is stuck at desks, you’re not creating much of a chance for workers to get to know each other. Including a garage door near this area is perfect for bringing in food trucks and creating a cool, relaxed social space during events.

6. Think “Neighborhood”. You want your co-working space to be designed with “neighborhoods” or pockets – not just one big park. The most attractive co-working spaces are the ones that have specific areas for people. Just like certain neighborhoods appeal to certain people at specific times in their lives, your co-working space should have an opportunity for everyone to feel like they belong.

7. Personal Touches. Popular co-working spaces always have a great personality. Whether you choose specific art and lighting or design elements like plants, consider the “vibe” you want workers to experience the moment they walk in. While you don’t want your space to feel overwhelming or chaotic, you absolutely want to avoid anything that feels impersonal or mass-produced.

8. Lots of Light. The more natural light your co-working space has, the more popular it will be (and you can charge more, too). When possible, design your space with as many windows and opportunities for natural light. While it’s tempting to put all your office spaces at the windows, it’s important to leave a lot of the natural light for your co-working spaces too. Glass walls or walls of windows are popular choices for current designs, but be sure you know your audience before you invest in that style. Too much light and not enough privacy can be an issue for some workers, so it is important to control transparency.

9. Be Convenient. Don’t overlook conveniences in your co-working space, such as a place for members to print, receive mail, enjoy coffee, etc. There should also be a plethora of outlets for people using your co-working space, as it’s not strange for people to need or want to plug in several different devices at once. Being convenient in location doesn’t hurt, either.

One of the most important factors of designing and building a great co-working space is knowing who you’re creating your space for. Don’t just choose elements because they seem cool or because you’re under the impression that they’re “what’s in” right now. Your space needs to be appealing visually, yes, but also practical – that’s the only way you’ll keep members in the long-run.

How Can Architecture & Design Affect Higher Education?

Butler University College of Education

Butler University – College of Education at CTS

If you’ve spent any amount of time on a well-designed, beautifully constructed university campus, then you understand the importance of architecture when it comes to influencing higher education. Not only can architecture inspire imagination and creativity, but it can unite students, teachers, and the community to create a space that feels energized, organic, and magnetic.

There are several ways architects can influence the way a higher education building is interpreted by the people who will use it every day. Considering there are more than 21,000 universities across the globe (and hundreds more currently being constructed), this specific design niche makes a notable footprint in the world’s landscape.

Can a design help make students more successful? Can architecture unite people from diverse backgrounds and beliefs?

We think so.

Here are a few ways that architecture and design directly affect higher education:

Vertical Spaces. Because many higher education campuses and their buildings are so large, it’s easy for designs to focus on the outward, horizontal sprawl. And, while often beautiful to look at, there’s a feeling of being “lost in a crowd” that can make these types of buildings and spaces less than conducive to interaction and collaboration. Instead, higher education facilities can look to find ways to build up – not out. These vertical spaces, when designed for students and staff in particular, become a powerful magnet for interaction, allowing individuals on campus to feel less “lost” and more as part of the crowd.

Cross-Pollination. Traditionally, most higher education campuses were divided into “schools”, separating one group of students and its professors from another. However, new facilities or those undergoing renovation and restoration are re-thinking this concept. Rather than sectioning people away from each other, as if some sort of quarantine is in place, new buildings and spaces are being designed so that students and staff from different disciplines have an opportunity to interact. This can take shape in many ways, but some of the most interesting are a sort of tunnel-bridge concept that connect buildings on multiple levels.

Natural Light. The more light you let in, the more successful you will be. Or, at least, that’s what many studies are confirming. In addition to more success, natural light is said to make people happier, reduce stress, and combat illness as well. By finding ways to allow more natural light in, higher education facilities can improve the environment for everyone working and learning on campus. In addition to natural light, which can be let in by windows and skylights, creating spaces that are truly light-filled, such as a wall of windows or clear walls, can help make studying and meetings more enjoyable.

Student-Centric. Students want to feel like they belong at their university or college – and that’s something that great design can accomplish. When creating a space, architects should look at developing areas that are convenient for students to enjoy. Places to safely store laptops and personal items in between lectures, attractive lobbies with comfortable and adaptable furniture, as well as large seating areas where bigger study or friend groups can meet will help to bolster the attitude and loyalty of students on campus.

Skip-Stop Strategy. In order to create healthy, vibrant spaces on higher ed campuses, architects should look for ways to incorporate the “skip-stop” strategy. The idea behind this concept is to help students and staff circulate easily, offering more opportunities for exercise as well as those chance encounters with friends and acquaintances. A notable innovation are skip-stop elevators, which only stop on certain floors, encouraging individuals to use the stairs. In cases where the stairs are designed in conjunction with this strategy, you can develop staircases that are grand, wide, filled with light, and a natural place to stop and chat. In order to be ADA compliant and for employee convenience, there must be a secondary elevator option which does stop on each floor.

Outdoor Strips. Acting as gateways to campus, large outdoor strips can be an inviting way to welcome students and visitors. They’re also the perfect place to host sports activities and large gatherings. Beautiful to walk through, these strips are also another way to bring the campus community together on a daily basis.

When designed and built with the intention to inspire the next generation, there’s no limit to how beneficial architecture can be on higher education campuses.

5 Tips for Designing More Interactive Classrooms

Interactive learning is one of the best ways for teachers and educators to make sure their students are actually grasping the knowledge and skills they are sharing.

An effort to combat Mark Twain’s famous sentiment of higher education being “a place where a professor’s lecture notes go straight to the students’ lecture notes without passing through the brains of either,” interactive learning encourages students and educators to get actively involved. In fact, some of the best interactive classrooms can, at first glance, look chaotic because of this type of engagement and often physical movement.

But, as research shows, not giving students an opportunity to interact is likely to impede their ability to really learn – not just memorize and repeat. And teachers agree. In a recent survey, 97% of all educators said that interactive learning experiences undoubtedly lead to improved learning.

Here are some tips for building and designing more interactive classrooms that will benefit both teachers and their students.

1. Provide Flexibility

An interactive classroom needs to be a welcoming, easy-to-use classroom. When designing the space, it’s important to make sure all students, including ones with disabilities, find it easy to move around, join in conversations, sit at tables, etc. Furniture layouts should be flexible, going from lecture-based to project-based collaboration spontaneously. The more a classroom is able to adapt to the subject or project of the day, and whims of the teacher and students (think about including elements like movable tables, rolling/swiveling chairs, comfortable furniture), the more interactive it will be.

2. Smart Surfaces

From large interactive walls to mobile smart boards, the surfaces in the classroom need to be functional and attractive. Teachers should also have access to multiple surfaces, preferably not just at the front of the room, to help facilitate conversations and offer guidance for specific subject material. Increasing flexibility even more, mobile teacher presentation carts allow the teacher to un-tether from a wall location and move about the room.

Mary Castle Elementary

Multiple Writing Surfaces & Mobile Technology Boards for Teachers – Mary Castle Elementary

3. Adjustable Lighting

Light plays a big role in the classroom environment. To help students feel comfortable and relaxed while interacting with each other and teachers, design lighting fixtures that can be adjusted and controlled. Dimmers as well as ambient lighting, not just the standard overhead lights, allow the environment to be changed as needed and will better facilitate conversations, presentations, etc.

4. Maximize Visibility

The best interactive classrooms don’t have a designated “front of the classroom”. Create spaces with your design that allow student seating to be optimized from every point of the room. Students should feel connected with their teachers – not separate from them. By eliminating the ability for students to be placed in designated “back” and “front” of the classroom, design can help equalize the playing field for all students.

5. Technological Savvy

Almost all modern design incorporates the latest technological needs, but perhaps it’s most important when applied to the classroom setting. In order to create interactive classrooms, technology almost always needs to be incorporated. Wireless technology provides the most flexibility in connecting students and teachers to projectors, monitors, and each other for sharing work. Provide multiple charging locations, including floor boxes with USB ports, throughout the room for both students and teachers.

While every classroom can be tailored to specific subjects and grade levels, all interactive classrooms will share the same basic fundamentals. And, because the best interactive designs allow space to be easily reconfigured, these types of classrooms are highly adaptable, making them a great asset for schools across the country.

 

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