Forward-Thinking School Design Inspires Teachers and Students

The 2008 DesignShare Awards for the best scholastic architecture.

The 2008 DesignShare Awards for the best scholastic architecture.

Since 2006, subscribing wholeheartedly to the need to share the best of scholastic design, Edutopia has published a sampling of winners of the annual DesignShare awards for exceptional scholastic architecture. The competition is juried by a team of prominent architects, landscapers, designers, and educators under the aegis of the Minneapolis- and Tampa-based architecture and planning firm Fielding Nair International.

DesignShare has long argued that school design and architecture need to be as much about caps, gowns, and mortarboards as about mortar, steel, and bricks. For nearly a decade, Randy Fielding and Prakash Nair and their group have searched the globe for school projects that utilize design as a creative tool for scholastic achievement.

The DesignShare annual awards began in 2000, and to date the spotlight of honor has shone on a range of exemplary school projects from such countries as Argentina, Australia, Canada, Germany, Iceland, India, Iran, Israel, Mexico, and Singapore, as well as new construction and renovations from around the United States. Every year, competitors are asked two questions in order to seek out tangible expressions of DesignShare's key theme, Designing for the Ever Changing Future of Learning.

According to Fielding, the awards program's co-creator, the operative motivating idea can be found in the latter half of the award's name: Share. "What we really need to do," Fielding says in describing a critical standard fostered by the DesignShare Awards, "is to move from a competitive to a collaborative prototype that allows us to share great school design worldwide."

With the following selections, we offer five of this year's DesignShare winners, all but one from the United States. This year, what most prominently characterizes the winning projects is the trend toward architecture that increasingly aims to serve as a physical, tangible, multidimensional primer to inform and inspire students and teachers as vividly as the best books, curricula, and educational Web sites.


Academy of Information Technology & Engineering
Stamford, Connecticut
DesignShare Recognized Value Award
Designer: Fuller and D'Angelo, PC Architects and Planners

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Credit: Courtesy of DesignShare

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Credit: Courtesy of DesignShare

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Credit: Courtesy of DesignShare

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Credit: Courtesy of DesignShare

The Academy of Information Technology & Engineering is a three-story, 121,000-square-foot interdistrict magnet high school serving communities in Connecticut. The school is designed to engage its 650 students with a college-prep and honors course load that includes intensive elements of information technology and preengineering.

The cutting-edge architecture uses an open plan that exposes the sculptural aspect of structural, mechanical, electrical, and information technology elements. This visual transparency imparts important insights into the fundamentals and functions of design and construction, symbolizing the school's curriculum and helping immerse students in the fundamentals and functions of the various technical fields they study.


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Credit: Courtesy of DesignShare

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Credit: Courtesy of DesignShare

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Credit: Courtesy of DesignShare

Matanuska-Susitna Career and Technical High School
DesignShare 2008 Recognized Value Award
Designer: McCool Carlson Green Architects

The designers of this school, located in a town made famous by a recent vice presidential candidate, were committed to evoke both the scholastic and the commercial worlds. The goal, as with other DesignShare award winners, was to place the school's 21st-century technology, science, and service orientation in a real-world context.

Designed for 625 students, what's locally called the Mat-Su Career & Technical High School was planned in a series of workshops that included community, business, and school district input. The result is a cohesive structure that combines previously scattered facilities and programs. Physically and intellectually, the design of the school focused on five major career pathways: health sciences and nursing; culinary arts and tourism; fitness/sports science; information technology and electronics; and business, architecture, engineering, and construction. In the school's design, each of these career pathways is architecturally differentiated by separate outdoor entrances, distinct color palettes, and individualized graphics. Its underlying architecture, ductwork, advanced engineering, and seismic bracing systems are purposely open and on display, visually reiterating the "bones" of structural solutions.


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Credit: Courtesy of DesignShare

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Credit: Courtesy of DesignShare

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Credit: Courtesy of DesignShare

Trias VMBO
Krommenie, the Netherlands
DesignShare 2008 Merit Award
Designer: Atelier PRO, Leon Thier

Architecture as a curriculum enhancer also distinguishes Trias VMBO, which offers an innovative style of preparatory vocational training for 1,800 students ages 12-16, with courses in a diverse range of trades, crafts, and technical disciplines, including health care, catering, engineering, and fashion design.

At Trias VMBO, the underlying educational theme involves emulating the real world of work. To honor the industrial heritage of the Trias site, the school is designed as a huge factorylike block with fa&cced;ades of tile indigenous to the region. Workrooms where students learn to collaborate on a variety of craft projects line the periphery of the building's interior; different trades occupy their own "shops." Each of these opens onto a brink, or central commons, designed to host mock trade fairs and exhibitions as well as serve as a "village square" that gives an added sense of the key role trades and crafts have historically played in the area.

Trias VMBO, established in 2006, became an instant architectural symbol and three-dimensional textbook for the regeneration of regional trades.


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Credit: Courtesy of DesignShare

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Credit: Courtesy of DesignShare

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Credit: Courtesy of DesignShare

School Without Walls Senior High School
Washington, DC
DesignShare 2008 Merit Award
Designer: Ehrenkrantz Eckstut & Kuhn

School Without Walls Senior High School gains tremendous power from melding the new with the old: The school's new spaces are designed to give students the sense of freedom to explore and learn that emulates the collegial atmosphere of nearby George Washington University. This collaboration enables direct contact with older students who are immersed in and committed to programs of higher education and can represent for inner-city high school students the path to scholastic success.

The expectation is that this collaboration will lead to the kind of systemic blend DesignShare lauds as "a seamless grade 9-16 curriculum" and that blur physical and program boundaries in a way some educators believe can lead to a paradigm shift for learning in all inner-city high schools.



Santa Fe Indian School
Santa Fe, New Mexico
DesignShare 2008 Recognized Value Award
Designer: Van H. Gilbert Architect/ASCG

The goal of the Santa Fe Indian School is to prepare Native American students for the challenges of life outside their pueblos while at the same time helping build lifetime ties to their heritage. This dual mission is evident in the school's modern curriculum and facilities and in a master plan for its 114 acres designed to promote gentle use of the site at the same time it pays homage to traditional Pueblo building techniques.

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Credit: Courtesy of DesignShare

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Credit: Courtesy of DesignShare

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Credit: Courtesy of DesignShare

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Credit: Courtesy of DesignShare

To serve the school's 700 students in grades 7-12, its overall design combines a modern learning environment with the aesthetic of a traditional Pueblo village. Most of the school's students are boarders who come from the Nineteen Pueblos, stretched across northern New Mexico. The underlying theme for the campus design was to support a rich intellectual life within the context of Pueblo community values.

The master plan itself provides space for learning, living, recreation, and spiritual growth in an inviting, recognizable environment. The design of the school's new dormitory building was particularly important to the success of the Santa Fe Indian School master plan. Students who come from a tradition of close family ties are in many cases leaving home for the first time, which underlines the importance of learning and living spaces that are familiar and familial.

See more designs of distinction at DesignShare's award page.

Richard Rapaport is a journalist and consultant in San Francisco.

This article originally published on 1/28/2009

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