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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.

The Design Components Every High School Gymnasium Needs

Whether you’re redesigning or renovating a high school gymnasium, or building a new structure from scratch, there are a lot of things to consider. Most importantly, you need to remember that a high school gym is so much more than just a place for sporting events; it’s a place for communities to gather. From the school community to the larger neighboring community, a gymnasium needs to be able to adapt quickly, offering places that accommodate a wide-range of needs – both the expected and the unexpected.

Main Gymnasium

The main part of the gymnasium will be where the big events take place. From basketball and volleyball games to school assemblies and dances, this space needs to consider flooring, acoustics, and the overall “wow” factor. Many older gyms don’t have a big enough clearance around the perimeter of the main court, something that should be considered in the design. The perimeter of the main competition court needs to have enough room for the team seating, judges’ and scorers’ table referees and spectator passage, etc. Per the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) guidelines, the perimeter of a basketball court requires a minimum of 3 feet but preferably 10 feet.

Some other questions to ask when designing the main gym:

  • How will students feel when they walk into their gym?
  • How can this main gym attract coaches?
  • How will rival schools feel?
Seating

While bleachers are an affordable option, some schools are opting for more luxurious stadium-style seating, complete with sunken seats and armrests. Depending on the size of the school and the community’s overall need for a gymnasium, the amount of seating needed will vary. To determine how much seating you will need, the following questions must by answered:

  • Is the gym a PE gym or a competition gym?
  • What events will this gym be designed for?
  • Does the school want to host sectionals at this gym?
  • What is the attendance history of this school/gym?
Accessibility

Everywhere on your design plan needs to be easily accessible for everyone. To make sure you’re not overlooking anything, put yourself in the shoes of every person who enters the gym – from the student athletes to individuals in wheelchairs, to teachers, parents and elderly spectators. The flow of your design should make it easy to get from one place to the next, all the way from the entry to the seats and back to the locker rooms.

Locker Rooms

Locker rooms are an essential part of any high school gym design. The size will depend on the overall student body. At the very least, locker rooms need to include lockers, benches, bathrooms, showers and larger spaces for pre- and post-game meetings. Most locker rooms also have offices inside, which make sure there’s appropriate supervision for the students. There can also be smaller locker rooms included for the referees – a place for them to get ready and store their belongings safely.

Public Facilities

High school gymnasiums need to include public facilities for guests and spectators. Typically at the front of the gym or at least very easy to find, these public facilities, like restrooms, meeting spaces, a public lobby, ticketing, and concessions, make enjoying games and events at the gym easy and stress-free.

Offices

In addition to the smaller “supervision” offices built into the locker rooms, larger offices for head coaches and athletic directors should be included in the design of a high school gym. Often upstairs, the best offices have windows and plenty of room, which can help entice the best of the best coaches and staff to the school.

Training Facilities

Gyms should include training facilities for the students to use at practice and before and after school. These facilities often have weight training and cardio equipment, as well as places to stretch and do drills. Many high school gyms feature a smaller auxiliary gym that can be used by teams when the main gym is in use for a game or event or gym classes during school hours.

Lighting

Although fluorescent lighting is common, newer gyms are opting for LED lighting. Some high school gyms are being designed to combine natural light with LED lights to conserve energy and reduce overall costs. Using natural light can also create a beautiful effect, which is why we incorporate clerestory windows in our new gym designs. To minimize glare, we can use frosted glass or polycarbonate wall panels to provide natural light without glare.

Storage

Creating enough storage in a high school gym is necessary so that different events can happen easily. The more convenient this storage is to access, the more easily the gym will be able to adapt (and the more willing volunteers will be to help relocate equipment). The majority of new storage areas in gyms are designed with rolling or garage-like doors so that large equipment can move in and out easily.

Because gyms are such hubs, it’s important that every high school gymnasium design considers the needs of the school and the community. When done well, new gyms become a place of pride and somewhere everyone looks forward to going.

Want to learn more about our experience? Click the magazine below:

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!

Q&A Session with Myrisha Colston

It seems like Myrisha Colston, Architectural Graduate, has worked here forever. Her smiling face has been a mainstay on the second floor for many years. Myrisha has interned or just helped around the office six or seven (who is really keeping track?) different stints through the years before graduating with her masters and landing at Schmidt Associates full-time.

 

Tell me about yourself.
Growing up, I was an army brat, moving several times before settling in Indianapolis when I was 10. I attended IPS and interned at Schmidt Associates as a junior at Arsenal Tech High School—which led to my career here. Coming from a large family, especially on my mother’s side, family has always been a key value in my life.  I am very close with my parents, my older sister, and my four God-siblings (2 boys and 2 girls).

I am currently engaged to be married in August. My fiancé, Cameo, and I dated from the age of 12 to 16, and then life took us separate ways for a while. We reconnected while I was in graduate school and here we are today—looking forward to starting our life together.

Myrisha Colston Family

What inspires you?
Faith is my biggest inspiration, along with family. Without faith or my family, I would not have made it through school or where I am now.

What do you do in your free time?
I don’t really know how to sit down. I tend to say “yes” when asked to help, especially when it comes to my family. When I do sit down, though, I love spending time with family watching movies and playing games.

I also enjoy working with youth. When I entered architecture, I struggled with how it would help me give back. My past two years in graduate school, I participated in outreach and went into high schools and talked with youth about architecture. Additionally, I am serving as a mentor for a second-year architecture student at Ball State—offering feedback and advice as she takes her own journey through school.

Do you have a favorite vacation?
One of my favorite places was San Francisco; that is where I developed more of a love for nature and its peace and serenity. I loved being in the Redwood Forest. I also enjoyed my trip to Gatlinburg, Tennessee. One of my favorite moments was zip lining in the Smoky Mountains.

Myrisha Colston Vacation

Do you collect anything?
I have a collection of nutcrackers. When I was about 8, my parents bought me two nutcrackers for Christmas, and it has just continued from there. I think I have about 15 of them now, receiving one each year as a gift. I’ve decided to stop because I don’t want to have a room where I don’t want to go in due to all these wooden guys staring at me. 😊

What’s one thing not everyone knows about you?
I am obsessed with budgeting! When I was growing up, I was always number-oriented, but the obsession has gotten really bad with the wedding planning. I love budgeting, from the excel document to putting in the formulas—everything!

 

Also learn about Sarah HempsteadTricia SmithCharlie WilsonTom NeffJoe RedarDave JonesPatricia BrantPhil MedleyLiam KeeslingSayo AdesiyakanBen BainAsia CoffeeEric BroemelMatt DurbinKevin ShelleyEddie LaytonAnna Marie Burrell, Kyle Miller, and Steve Schaecher

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.

Q&A Session with Steve Schaecher

Whether it is the Taj Ma-Stall by Emperor Shah Jahan or Flushingwater by Frank Lloyd Wright, Steve Schaecher—Senior Project Architect and one of the newest Principals of the firm—is quite knowledgeable about architecture and is happy to share this knowledge through humor.

 

 

What makes you tick?
I am an architect, so obviously I have a creative side and love using it in all aspects of my life. I like to create things that get a little rise out of people or make them laugh. I enjoy seeing the reactions of people to things I think are funny. However, its always a tightrope—one of my kids always tells me that I am not supposed to laugh at my own jokes. But humor is a big part of my life, and I believe laughter is the medicine to cure all.

Other than architecture, what outlets do you utilize for your creativity?
I have always enjoyed drawing. In high school, I was the cartoonist for the school paper—it was the first time I had something in print. I invented a strip called “Dr. Cartoon” and made up humorous diseases around our school every week. Though I didn’t do much with cartooning in college, after graduating, the local AIA Indianapolis Chapter started a newsletter. I was talking with a friend of mine who was the editor; one thing led to another, and I ended up drawing the cartoons for the newsletter.

About six months later, National AIA started the AIArchitect, a monthly national newspaper for architects. I contacted them, and the next thing you know, I had a national audience for my cartoons. That is where I created my first outhouse—Frank Lloyd Wright’s, Flushingwater.  After that, I thought, “I could make a calendar out of this.” So, I put together 12 different samples and researched calendar publishers. I lucked out, the first publisher I approached liked the concept, but suggested it expand to a permanent book instead of a temporary calendar.

The first book—”Outhouses by Famous Architects”—was well received. Within a year, I suggested a sequel—”Mobile Homes by Famous Architects”—and eventually I rounded out the trilogy with “Phone Booths by Famous Architects”. Eventually the books were also converted into calendars.

Another interesting tidbit, a publishing company in China picked up the books and published them in Chinese! I don’t think the translation picks up the humor very well, though.

Steve Schaecher - Outhouses book

“Outhouses by Famous Architects”

What do you do in your free time?
I genuinely enjoy hanging out with my kids. We attend a lot of soccer games.

As an architect, it seems like I always have some kind of home improvement project going. I designed my own home, but there is always something to re-do.

Steve Schaecher

What’s one thing not everyone knows about you?
I went to a Catholic School and the nuns were somewhat strict. One day, I had the hiccups and went to get a drink from the water fountain. I looked up to see Sister Calista (the meanest of the sisters) walking down the hall; then I bent down to get another drink. I got in trouble for taking more than one drink! She busted me and scared the right hiccups out of me!

 

Steve Schaecher - Family

Tell me about your family.
I have been married to Susie, a true Speedway girl, for 23 years. Together, we have three kids—Nathan, a sophomore at Purdue studying industrial engineering; Lindsey, a junior at Avon hoping to become a teacher; and Nick, a 6th grader heavily involved in travel soccer.

 

Also learn about Sarah HempsteadTricia SmithCharlie WilsonTom NeffJoe RedarDave JonesPatricia BrantPhil MedleyLiam KeeslingSayo AdesiyakanBen BainAsia CoffeeEric BroemelMatt DurbinKevin ShelleyEddie LaytonAnna Marie Burrell, and Kyle Miller

How to Create Engaging, Productive Open Office Spaces

Open office spaces are popular, but not necessarily because they make employees feel more engaged or productive. Although, in theory, they seem to check all of the boxes, some studies show that they can be problematic for certain types of workers who may need quiet, isolated space in order to focus and feel relaxed. That doesn’t mean, however, that open office spaces can’t work.

They can.

In order to make them truly effective, they need to be designed and delivered in a way that makes everyone in the office space feel involved. New research is showing that any office space can be conducive to productivity and engagement. It turns out that it’s less about how an office space looks and much more about how the design and concept makes people feel.

According to an article published by the Harvard Business Review, this research has led to a better understanding about “place identity.” If employees connect with a space and feel like they have ownership and a sense of belonging, they automatically report “more engagement…more communication…and a stronger connection to the company.”

So, to make sure that your open office concept really gets the job done, here are a few key elements to consider:

  • Adjustable Furniture and Spaces. Adjustable furniture doesn’t just mean that heights of chairs and desks can be personalized (although that’s good). Allowing open concept office spaces to be able to adapt to daily needs, like the rearranging of desks, chairs, and tables, gives employees an opportunity to make the space their own. The more versatile and multi-purpose open office space designs can be, the more likely that workers will feel comfortable to work and collaborate regularly and effectively. If a design allows for spontaneity and imagination, then there’s a better chance that the concept will flourish. It is also a good idea to offer employees a chance to get away from all the openness. There are times where they will need to focus, without interruptions that come naturally with an open office. Providing focus rooms or small conference rooms prove to be helpful spaces to include in this design.
Ivy Tech Open Office - Focus Rooms

Ivy Tech Cental Office – Focus Rooms

  • Meaningful Details. To make open office spaces work, employees need to feel like it has been designed with meaning. Even more importantly, open concepts need to feel purposeful and personal. To keep employees from complaining about this type of design from feeling “noisy” or “distracting”, you need to make sure they identify with the space. Achieving this type of organization-wide inclusion isn’t always possible, but the more you can collaborate with employees about the design, allowing for opportunities for input and ideas, the more they will take ownership of it. This type of ownership is what will transform the “noisy” and “distracting” descriptors to the “energetic” and “collaborative” nomers you want.

 

  • Enthusiastic Design. When approaching a new project, especially if workers will make the transition from traditional to open work space with you, it’s important to stay positive and enthusiastic. Conveying the why behind the changes will help employees understand the concept – and will hopefully help garner their support. While in the design phase for Ivy Tech’s Central Office, we had a demo day for staff to try out and choose from accessory options to customize their space. Research shows that the more positive leadership can be when transitioning from one office design to another, the more the employees will match their attitude.

 

  • Be Open to Change. It is important to get users engaged early in the design process. As your open concept office space begins to take shape, it’s important to listen and acknowledge their needs. While something may have seemed like a good idea in the beginning, it could be apparent after a week or two that it isn’t functioning the way you want. Don’t resist changes. If employees offer a suggestion for how to make the space more engaging and productive, listen attentively and see if there’s a way to make the adjustment.

One of the best attributes of open office spaces is that they really do allow for better interaction between teams. This type of “cross-pollination” between groups within an organization can foster new ideas, creativity, and a sense of excitement at work.

To see more of our office work, check out our Workplace portfolio

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.

 

If you think we would be a good fit for your next project, reach out to us!

A Word from our Owners – Greenwood Community Schools

Mike Hildebrand

Mike Hildebrand is a retired Indiana State Police Detective with over 23 years of service. He began his career in education with the Pike County School Corporation in Petersburg, Indiana in 2003. Mike was hired by Greenwood Community Schools in 2014 as the Director of Operations. He is the Administrator over the facilities, grounds, maintenance, transportation, and School Safety. Mike enjoys everything about the Greenwood Community Schools System because it is a great place to work and a great place for an education. He says it is a corporation where everyone feels like family. Mike and his wife Ruthann reside in Greenwood, and they have four grown children and 10 grandchildren. Of course, he is also a huge Alabama Football fan. Roll Tide!

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When you walk through the new Greenwood Middle School, you can easily forget that you are even in a K-12 facility. The school is designed around a STEAM (Science Technology Engineering Arts and Math) curriculum that engages students and staff in project-based learning opportunities. All 160,000 square feet, each of the three floors, every single educational space was built with the student in mind. We wanted to talk with Mike Hildebrand to see how the engineering systems bring everything together, creating an efficient learning environment for all.

Greenwood Middle School

Tell us a little about the why Greenwood needed a new Middle School.

I can say the new Middle School was an absolute necessity, not just for our students and staff, but for the community. If you hadn’t seen the old school, just imagine décor from the 60’s to the 90’s, old restrooms, dark hallways, outdated cabinets in the classrooms, poor lighting, and few windows. The HVAC system was as old as the student’s parents and some grandparents. This new middle school is a better setting for our students. The better the learning atmosphere, the more desire there is to attend school. This gets teachers more excited to teach. Even the food tastes better in the new cafeteria!

The entire school is now welcoming, has easy lines of sight, and the aesthetics are wonderful. Just enough to make it appealing without the cost of fancy features.

Have you seen an increased level of occupant comfort in the new building?

Comfort is a must in every classroom setting. The Siemens control system is wonderful. The features are easy to understand, and changing a room or area’s temperature is a breeze. The ability to go to a night or unoccupied set back has saved us a considerable amount on utilities as well. Our custodial and maintenance staff dove in head first and are continuing to learn new tricks every day. The air quality is also a vast improvement from our old middle school, which had some sections starting from 1960’s.

The design of the facility itself makes the visual observation of students during the passing periods simple. One faculty member can stand at the junction of the two wings and see both halls from one vantage point. The design and features of today’s school has changed so much since I was in school, back in the 60’s and 70’s. The newest technology is used in every classroom, students are learning robotics at a much younger age, and every aspect of this facility was discussed to determine if this was going to benefit our students for the better. This facility was designed just to do that very thing. It was done the Greenwood way.

How has the learning environment improved daily life here at Greenwood Middle School – for the students, teachers, and those maintaining the new systems?

As you know, lighting is an important feature in any educational facility. Having gone from our old school’s lighting to new LED is absolutely a huge improvement, both for the students and staff. The automatic light features that turn on/off upon entry was a huge success with our staff. The dimmer capabilities are used almost daily by all of our staff while instruction is taking place with the overhead units onto the whiteboard marker walls. Each classroom has outdoor light access as well, offering the inviting ray of sunshine in for our students.

The HVAC units are definitely a well-received item and the biggest change from old univent systems to the new buildings system. No more high fan speed noise disrupting instruction, and no more too cold or too hot depending on where you sit in the room. The capability to change the temp + or – 3 degrees at the thermostat is awesome. Students learn better when they are comfortable in their environment.

In the old school, each classroom had a univent system. When there was a failure you could count on at least a 4-hour repair as you had to pull the unit from the wall, make the repairs, and then put it back in place. What a difference the vertical unit ventilation systems have made. Easy access, easier repairs, and less time consuming for our maintenance staff. Even the filter change is simpler and can take only a couple of minutes.

In general, what have you heard from staff, teachers, parents, and students about the new school?

Superintendent Dr. Kent DeKoninck and Asst. Superintendent Mr. Todd Pritchett were an integral part of the success of the construction and completion of our new school. All of the physical aspects–the aesthetics, flooring, cafeteria area, media center and classrooms–have been praised by students, staff, and community. Our easy access points for the office area during the school day or the secondary entrance for our indoor athletic events are very welcoming without going over the top in costs.

The pride of Greenwood Community Schools has once again peaked to the point of happiness. Even our residential neighbors have had nothing but good things to say about what once used to be a farm field to now becoming a modern and beautiful school facility. In short, no one is more pleased than our students, our parents, our staff and our school leaders. We could not have hoped for more than what we’ve received in our new Greenwood Middle School.

How would you describe the process of working with Schmidt Associates, specifically the engineering team?

My experience of working with Schmidt Associates has been wonderful, from the design portion all the way through to completion. Even with minor punch list items remaining a year in now, the cooperative effort has been amazing.

As issues would arise during the construction, the Schmidt team would provide detailed alternatives to the issues, have quick remedies as a solution, and implement the changes into the plan. Our relationship with Schmidt Associates has become one of trust, and their team of experts have addressed our needs and concerns in a timely manner.

Greenwood Community Schools has also used Schmidt Associates on other projects, and we are in the process of beginning yet another project at our High School.

 

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