New Report Sets Direction for School Design in 21st Century

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Schools in the 21st century should feature more diverse learning enviornments, greater technology and be more integrated with their communities says a new report on school design issued today by the American Architectural Foundation and KnowledgeWorks Foundation.

Schools in the 21st century should feature more diverse learning environments, greater technology and be more integrated with their communities, recommends a new report on school design issued today by the American Architectural Foundation (AAF) and KnowledgeWorks Foundation.

The 70-page Report from the National Summit on School Design provides recommendations to help designers and educators make better decisions about some of the $30 billion spent annually on new or renovated school facilities. In recognizing the historic opportunity created by a multi-billion dollar national school construction boom, the report states that American education is at a “watershed moment in school design” when “the definition of the American school is evolving into something entirely new.”

“We have moved beyond the one-size fits all approach to school design to an age of greater innovation and flexibility tailored to meet the needs of individual students, schools and communities,” said Ronald E. Bogle, president and CEO, of the American Architectural Foundation. “The successful schools of the future need to apply the research on how students learn and how the quality of our educational facilities affects student performance, health, safety, self-esteem and well-being.”

The report recommendations reflect the unprecedented collaboration of more than 200 public, private, and civic sector leaders who participated in the three-day National Summit on School Design late last year. This broad range of perspectives included the input of public sector representatives from the U.S. Conferences of Mayors to the U.S. Department of Education; design thought leaders including the American Planning Association and the National Endowment for the Arts; economic interests such as the National Association of Realtors and the Wharton School of Business; and leading philanthropies like The Rockefeller Foundation and William Penn Foundation.

"What we are suggesting is nothing less than a fundamental re-definition of the American school house” said Chad P. Wick, president and CEO of KnowledgeWorks Foundation, “You can’t expect children to learn 21st century skills in schools built for the 1950’s. We need schools designed for 21st century success.”

According to the report’s findings, critical components of that success must involve:

  •      Designing schools to support a variety of learning styles. Since not all students learn the same way, school facilities should support project-based learning, tutoring and mentoring, interactive classrooms, individual work stations as well as more traditional classrooms.
  •      Enhancing learning by integrating technology.

Technology must be integrated into the environment of any well-designed school in order to support learning and help schools operate more effectively.

  •      Fostering a “small school” culture. Summit participations recognized the importance and benefits of developing a small school culture that fosters relationships and attachments. Some school districts have divided large schools into two or more smaller schools to allow a more intimate learning environment.
  •      Creating schools as centers of community.

A growing trend is for schools to serve as the center of the community, where learning takes place for students and adults and where the facilities may also house recreational centers, health clinics and community meeting spaces. Schools as centers of community can be used all-year and serve the intergenerational needs of a community—from pre-school to K-12 to adults.

  •      Engaging the public in the planning process.

The school design process must involve the public in an open and authentic engagement process that includes school and community stakeholders and recognizes minority opinions.

  •      Making healthy, comfortable, and flexible learning spaces. Good school design addresses the security, day lighting, ventilation, acoustics and other elements that impact the health, safety and functionality of school facilities used by more than 59 million students, teachers and other adults on a daily basis in the U.S.
  •      Considering non-traditional options for school facilities and classrooms. There are many ways in which a school may function, and many places where it may be housed. Underused civic, retail, and cultural facilities can be adapted to learning spaces, for example, can contribute to student learning by offering nontraditional opportunities to engage with academic subjects and the environment outside the classroom.

This summit follows on and builds on the National Symposium on School Design that was organized in 1998 by then U.S. Secretary of Education Richard Riley and the American Institute of Architects. Riley has been on the Board of KnowledgeWorks Foundation since 2000.

The report, which also features innovative school examples and an extensive resource section, is available for free on the web at or can be purchased for $15 by calling 202-626-7318.

Target-AAF Team-Up on Great Schools by Design

The American Architectural Foundation also announced that Target will become a presenting sponsor of its Great Schools by Design program. Over the coming months, AAF and Target will launch a new component “Design for Learning: Creating Classrooms of the Future.” An outcome of the National Summit on School Design, this component will examine how school and classroom design impacts learning. AAF and Target will co-present a national forum to be held in October in Minneapolis that will bring together leading experts on the subject to discuss research findings, trends and recommendations. In addition, AAF and Target will work together on a national school design competition to be launched in early 2007.

“We have partnered with the American Architectural Foundation to improve America’s schools because we believe that great design enhances learning and promotes creativity and innovation,” said Laysha Ward, vice president of community relations for Target. “We recognize the value of strong performing schools to the success of the communities we serve.”

Launched in 2004, the American Architectural Foundation’s Great Schools by Design program supports improved quality in America’s schools by promoting outstanding design of the learning environment, encouraging collaboration in the design process and providing leading-edge resources that help schools and communities transform themselves. McGraw-Hill Construction and Herman Miller are co-founding sponsors of the Great Schools by Design program.

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Frank Walter