re-imagining school design for the future
A a ro n Ts o s i e
PAST AND PRESENT 02
ADDRESSING THE MYTH 04
FORWARD FACING CLASSROOM 05
A NEW FOUNDATION 06
REPLACING GRADES WITH STAGES 07
FORMAL FLEXIBILITY 09
“Even in the face of overwhelming change, education is always a generation behind”
- Jonathon Parker,
Assistant Principal for Student Services
at Moon Valley High School,
The image to the left is of the Change is happening. It happens everywhere, with everything. This
West-MEC Northwest Campus idea was rooted in the keynote remarks of futurist David Houle at the Spring
in Surprise, Arizona. The campus 2017 A4LE International Conference in Atlanta. Houle argues for dramatic
utilizes Academic CollisionsTM as a holistic transformation in education, and suggests change will “likely come
design principle which represents a faster than any of us imagine.” Recognizing their own potential biases when
shift from the standard educational designing educational spaces, Bill Gould of Artik Art & Architecture, Kevin
model. Academic CollionsTM utilizes Kemner of Tate Snyder Kimsey Architects, and Mark Davenport of SPS+
adjaceny and transparency between Architects have asked the youngest designers at each of their respective ﬁrms
seemingly different programmatic to explore possible ways that learning environments might evolve. Each team
elements, subjects, and classes to chose a focus and collaborated to reﬁne ideas. Our team at SPS+ Architects
provide opportunity for collaboration is composed of Lauralee Montemurro, Miranda Garcia, Caleb Lowery, and
and innovation. Aaron Tsosie. Our focus centered on the public educational model.
In order to begin speculating on the future of public education and
their spaces, we ﬁrst need to have an understanding of the current educational
model. The idea of choosing technology as a driving factor of public
education was initially alluring, but upon researching the topic, we understood
this was not the driver. In just about every case, technology is introduced to
learning environments, but it does not drive them. Technology is an additive; it
is a tool to facilitate learning. A tool is only as useful as the person using it, and
their ideas on how to use it. Regardless of the level of technology in a room,
great teaching can still occur. The real driver of public education is how the
spaces will be used, and the pedagogy of the time.
PAST AND PRESENT
The current system of public education is based in conformity. It
was conceived and designed during the industrial era. Public education was
a machine designed to produce individuals with the skills to contribute to
the economy. Thus, the conveyor belt education system became standard: a
clear image of industrialization. Standardization became the means by which
individual value was determined.
Though there is continual improvements in the technology being
introduced in learning spaces, the template for classrooms remains relatively
the same. This is, however, not to say that progress is not being made. Quite
the contrary. Many educators realize the pitfalls of the current model and
have worked to improve it. In this document, we present a brief analysis of
a stereotypical classroom layout. The example may seem a bit contrived, but
it is important in understanding the fundamental model which is prevalent in
almost all public educational campuses. Many presentations oversimplify the
legacy of classroom design and often overlook the context of each stage.
The purpose here is not to provide a complete and comprehensive
analysis of how the classroom has evolved, but rather recognize the essential
characteristics and propose an alternate pedagogy.
In understanding current public education, we have identiﬁed a few
myths which we as a society tend to hold on to. Myth is often used to describe
something which is false, but in reality, myth is simply an image used to make
sense of the world. It is the means by which we try to understand something.
There are three myths which we have identiﬁed with the current public
1. Academic vs. non-academic, abstract/theoretical vs. vocational,
academic value and economic utility.
We tend to view the purpose of public education through a dualistic
lens, in which things are real and not real or useful and not useful. Industrial
values emphasize skills and economic utility over other types of learning. The
argument is simple: if you don’t have any practical knowledge or skills, you are
not ready for the “real” world. This type of thinking is prevalent, and must be
challenged. It is the reasoning which perpetuates standardized tests as a means
to measure individual value rather than a diagnostic tool.
2. Children are blank slates that must be molded.
To a degree, there is some truth to this statement, but it is unbalanced.
The tabula rasa is a one-sided view of a dualistic world-view. There is much
knowledge that children gain through experience, and learning does not end.
However, children are also inherently curious and inherently creative. We are
born scientists, constantly performing experiments on subjects which interest
us. Children do not need to learn how to learn, they do it innately.
The current system tends to educate children out of creativity by providing an
inﬂexible mold to which it tries to ﬁt every child.
3. The “basics” of education
Currently, public education utilizes subject areas as the basis for the
essentials of education. It emphasizes reading literacy, mathematics, and
science. This idea is so strongly rooted that entire nations use these subjects as
the basis to compare their educational models with other nations. Though each
of these subject areas are incredibly important to education, they should not
be the sole focus and are not the essentials of education
ADDRESSING THE MYTH
1. Promotion of creativity as the center of education.
The world is not black and white. It cannot be simply explained using
a dualistic view in which we believe things which contrast are opposites. Every
architect and artist knows that the space in and around an object is just as
important as the object itself. It is the supposed opposites of form and void
which provide meaning to each other. In the same way, we must re-think
how we view subjects which are abstract/theoretical and vocational. Each
lends itself to the other. We must treat subjects which emphasize creativity,
such as the arts and humanities, with as much regard as we treat science
and mathematics. They are subjects which help each other, not necessarily
opposites. In doing so, we can begin training students in problem-solving
rather than memorizing facts. The process of learning is much more important
than the ability to recite information. It becomes the foundation in which
new discoveries and innovations can be made. The children of today will
face problems tomorrow which we cannot predict. It is essential that public
education equip them with the tools and mindset to tackle these problems.
2. Children are like seeds. All the potential for growth is in them. If
you want them to grow, you must have the right environment. They are
inherently curious and creative.
When planting a crop, great care is given to the environment in which
the crop is grown. The composition of soil, temperature, humidity, and time
of year are all environmental conditions which are considered. We manipulate
as many of these factors to obtain the best results. We do not plant seeds in
unfertile ground and then wonder why they did not grow. The same attitude
must be applied to public education. We must tend to the pedagogy and
educational environment as much as possible to allow students to ﬂourish.
As designers, we are in control of the physical learning environments, from
the order of space, to ﬁnishes, to quality of air and light. For a national
and societal perspective, we are in control of the overall structure of public
education. All must be considered in order to have true impact.
3. The Learner and the Teacher.
If we are to remove everything extraneous from education, then we
would ﬁnd that the most essential pieces necessary to the process of education
are a learner and a teacher. These are the basics of education. The relationship
between these individuals should be the emphasis of future spaces. And this
relationship must be ﬂuid, in which the learner becomes the teacher, and the
teacher becomes the learner.
How can this be applied to Architecture? Ideas generate form. This is
the basic assumption of Architecture: form is the result of ideas. The form
of physical objects and space in Architecture is the result of underlying ideas.
This assumption allows us the means to analyze forms to unpack their themes.
We must also understand the context (location, culture, time) from which
these ideas resulted in form. From there, we can apply a new lens (our current
context) to decide whether the form is still appropriate.
FORWARD FACING CLASSROOM
Hierarchy – the implication of order through a one directional layout does
not allow for much ﬂexibility in teaching. A learning environment should be
adaptable to subject, teacher, and students.
(LEFT) This is the basic assumption Efﬁciency – number of students in a room, cost per square foot, ease of
of Architecture: form is the result of construction. This tends to focus on ﬁtting as many students in a room and a
ideas. The form of physical objects two-dimensional account of space rather than the quality of three-dimensional
and space in Architecture is the result space. The square and rectangle is also a form which is easily constructible.
of underlying ideas. This assumption Efﬁciency of space should mean more than ﬁtting as many students in a
allows us the means to analyze forms classroom as possible, or as many classrooms on a site as possible. It should
to unpack their themes. We must also mean space which performs efﬁciently in facilitating learning.
understand the context (location,
culture, time) from which these ideas Pedagogy – “sage on the stage” method of imparting knowledge assumes
resulted in form. From there, we that children learn by sitting still and listening to lectures rather than being
can apply a new lense (our current active participants in their own education. Not all students learn in the same
context) to decide whether the form manner, so a plethora of teaching methods and practices should be provided.
is still appropriate. Allowing students to become active participants in their own education
encourages students to invest more effort and energy in learning.
The physical environment of education should be a reﬂection of new
values, not based in the industrial revolution. Our increasingly complex world
requires creative problem solving.
“Teachers are farmers for a harvest they will never see”
- Jonathon Parker,
Assistant Principal for Student Services
at Moon Valley High School,
A NEW FOUNDATION
The next step in the process is to create a new foundation from which
the educational spaces are derived. Remnants of the previous model are
present, but the focus shifts.
Each teacher becomes a facilitator of the discipline and each teacher
engages each student’s creativity. Learning becomes a dynamic, collaborative
journey where teachers become learners and learners become teachers.
Disciplines are not constrained to age groups. Older students are allowed to
teach and work with younger students. Classes are also open to students who
exhibit interest and curiosity. Destinations and projects are balanced with skills
and techniques. Students are allowed to choose the vehicle of learning.
e t h i c s social studies | history | government | law | philosophy | logic | culture | epistemology | art history | sociology | cultural studies | community outreach | sustainability |
agriculture | business | finance | humanities | economics | politics | land ethics
k i n e s t h e t i c s sports | theatre | dance | music | photography | sculpture | drawing | painting | physical therapy | fashion | drama | orchestra |
aerobics | health | swimming | gymnastics | yoga | weight training | pilates
c o m m u n i c a t i o n art | scuplture | drawing | painting | photography | presentation | graphic design | theatre | dance | music |
language | reading | literature | writing | foreign language | marketing | creative writing | debate |
literary analysis | rhetoric | journalism | printmaking | film production
problem s o l v i n g community outreach | physics | math | logic | argument | writing | analysis | debate | rhetoric | journalism |
humanities | finance | business | agriculture | hydrology | land ethics | design | writing
science l i t e r a c y biology | geography | anatomy | botany | physics | mathematics | engineering | chemistry |
computer programming | web design | calculus | algebra | geometry | statistics | trigonometry | probability |
agriculture | earth science | astronomy | oceanography | zoology | electronics | forensic science | robotics |
construction | hydrology
Core Disciplines rather than subjects should be the focus content
in education. We propose 5 core disciplines– Ethics, Kinesthetics,
Communication, Problem Solving, and Science Literacy. Most subjects that
exist in public education ﬁt within these core disciplines.
(ABOVE) This graphic illustrates a
few of the currently existing classes
and subjects in public education
that can be categorized into the core
disciplines suggested. Because of
the breadth of each discipline, many
classes and subjects are allowed to
ethics kinesthetics communication problem solving science literacy
social studies sports art community outreach biology
history theatre scuplture physics geography
dance drawing math anatomy
government music painting logic
law photography photography argument botany
sculpture presentation writing physics
philosophy drawing graphic design analysis mathematics
logic painting theatre debate engineering
culture physical therapy rhetoric chemistry
fashion dance computer programming
epistemology drama music journalism web design
art history orchestra language humanities calculus
sociology aerobics reading algebra
health literature finance geometry
cultural studies swimming writing business statistics
community outreach gymnastics foreign language agriculture trigonometry
marketing hydrology probability
sustainability yoga creative writing land ethics agriculture
agriculture weight training debate design earth science
business literary analysis writing astronomy
finance pilates rhetoric oceanography
humanities journalism zoology
economics printmaking electronics
politics film production forensic science
land ethics robotics
By adopting core disciplines such as these, lessons and classes have
more ﬂexibility to bridge content areas and subjects. Classes such as “Drawing
as a Way of Thinking” would teach the skill of drawing, history, creativity, and
practical application. Learning the skill then becomes a ﬂexible tool which can
be utilized to tackle more complex problems. The gap between art and science
has only increased in size because we have separated the two subjects. At
several times in history, the skill was necessary to advancing human thought.
Another class could be “Photography of Social Justice” in which students are
taught photography, science and mechanics of light, history, and culture, all
in one setting. Subjects should be allowed to permeate different classes and
scenarios. The mixing of several subjects thought to be distinct from one
another is the very foundation of “Academic CollisionsTM.”
(ABOVE) Each subject is connected
with other subjects. Multiple subject
areas should overlap when teaching
stage 1: foundation
stage 2: activity based collaboration
stage 3: collaboration based
stage 4: exploration based
stage 5: mastery
REPLACING GRADES WITH STAGES
The current model of public education creates a problem which is
difﬁcult to overcome. The problem is the creation of steps in preparation for
the subsequent steps. A grade simply becomes preparation for the next grade.
Pre-school is preparation for elementary school, which is preparation for
middle school, and then high school afterward. Compulsory education became
a system of preparation that only teaches preparation. But if the journey stops
at high school, then what happens next? Most students are unable to ﬁgure out
what they are interested in once they leave school. And unfortunately, some
will take this mindset to college and acquire massive amounts of debt and still
To attack this problem, we propose 3 steps to compulsory education,
in which we also recognize the presence of a before and after step. 5 steps
Stage 1 - Formative Years
Where kids learn how to communicate, read / write, etc. The very
basics of societal integration. Akin to Pre K.
Stage 2 - Activity based Collaboration
Students ﬁrst begin really learning in group based settings and we
take advantage of that to help them learn how to effectively collaborate, to
work in groups to solve problems and ﬁnd solutions together. Most students
these days groan at the thought of a “group project” because it’s perceived
as a battle against other students to get your ideas into the project, Students
want to be able to say, “I did that part of the project”, versus “we did this”.
Getting students to learn how to effectively collaborate at a young age will help
set them up to be better participants and thinkers down the road. Students
will collaborate through activity, as at this age they are more hands on, direct.
Activities are more core based, and more about collaborating rather than
any speciﬁc outcome. The development of a good learning process for each
student is key here.
Stage 3 - Collaboration based Exploration
Students have a solid foundation of understanding collaboration and a
better idea of how they prefer to learn and. They begin to explore with other
students a plethora of ﬁelds of study and work. Each one is structured around
a core tenant of education, but rather than a singular subject being the focus
of a class, the ﬁelds of study/work are the focus and multiple core subjects
are weaved into it. They can learn physics, history, computer programming,
and ethics by studying space rockets, or they can learn kinesthetic, art, music,
and history through dance, as examples. By being exposed to multiple ﬁelds,
and being shown how bases of knowledge are used in every day settings and
themselves learn creative problem solving in real life applications, versus
learning isolated subjects. They begin to discover what truly grabs at them,
near the end of the stage they should have a solid idea of a few different areas
they would like to dive into deeper.
Stage 4 - Exploration based Proﬁciency
Students now have a solid base of working collaboratively with others
to creatively ﬁnd solutions and work through problems, and have a solid
understanding of what they ﬁnd most interesting. Here they collaborate with
others who share similar interests and work together to further understand
these ﬁelds. Near the end of this stage they decide on one ﬁeld/area of
research they are most interested in and really reﬁne some thoughts/ideas
about that ﬁeld and develop crucial, speciﬁc skills towards them. By the end
they should have a base proﬁciency/knowledge to be able to enter that ﬁeld,
either through internships, or into Stage 5, which would be the mastery of
that subject (akin to higher education).
The main focuses are to raise a new generation of people who innately
know how to work together to solve problems, who leave the educational
system with a stronger idea of what interests them in life, and will have the
ability to effectively contribute to a ﬁeld of their choosing.
ORGANIZATION The ﬁrst layout brieﬂy presented in the video shows an octagonal
form. Rooms are located at the periphery of the donut with a large open
Variations of lecture style spaces space at the center. The spaces are color coded to show collaborative spaces,
communal spaces, hands-on learning spaces, lecture spaces, service spaces,
and teacher support spaces. This forms the new module from which ﬂexible
learning takes place. This is stacked and rotated to compose a school/campus
which is then connected by bridges.
Individual Learning Style Rooms: The individualized rooms allow teachers
to practice any one learning style which could be Lecture, Hands On, or
Lecture: Three styles of lectured learning can be executed in this room: The
traditional, group discussion, and expandable lecture layouts. The traditional
lecture layout includes rectangular tables and chairs on casters, both at standard
and bar height to aid with front of classroom visibility. The traditional lecture
can then be transformed into two or more discussion groups, utilizing the
furniture’s mobility. The lecture classrooms are located to where there are two
next to each other and are divided with an operable partition. Two lecture
teachers can use their period to have a combined course.
ground level second level
administration communal space
gymnasium collaboration space
communal space break-out space
service social porch
Hands On: The hands on classroom is to house any arts, home economics,
maker-space and STEM courses. Millwork is provided and can provide any
needs in terms of storage, appliances, counter space, or hand wash stations
that the program may require. The rectangular desk surfaces will be larger than
that needed for lecture to accommodate for large layout of a number of sizes
making for large group ’kitchen tables’ or ‘genius bars’ and smaller to medium
groups. Multiple whiteboards and monitors on casters are provided so that the
teacher’s furniture can keep up with the ﬂexibility of the student’s furniture.
Just as the lecture classrooms, Hands On rooms are located next to each other
divided by an operable partition for a combined teacher course.
Collaborative: Collaborative spaces are made of lounge/cafe type furniture
pieces. This type of furniture encourages comfort and socializing supporting
a positive environment for students to collaborate and learn. This furniture
can be rotated making for a whole class collaboration effort, or smaller
Shared Resources (Storage): Because Hands On and Collaborative learning Variations of hands on style spaces
styles often require additional learning resources aside from the teacher, these
spaces are next to each other and divided by a shared storage room to store
any craft, demonstration, or reading material the course may need.
third level fourth level
collaboration space collaboration space
break-out space break-out space
social porch social porch
Centralized Combined Learning Environments: All individualized learning
environment classes have open portals opposed to the traditional closed
doorway, making it easy to bring classes together during periods into the
Spaces for (2) Learning Styles: 2 learning environments can be combined in
the central area. This space being open with few hard partitions, can be broken
up with movable furniture partitions and versatile furniture pieces to support
2 learning styles. Rectangular desks that can be used for individual or ganged
use with light weight ottomans can make the space functional for different
combined classroom sizes, curriculums and teaching/learning methods.
Spaces for (3) Learning Styles: Multi-directional communal furniture makes
it easy for a combined class to learn as one with a single designated teaching
front, but can then break out into groups where the three teachers rotate or
monitor designated groups.
Variations of collaboration style
09 LECTURE STORAGE
AS A LEARNING
WAY OF COLLAB
CERAMICS COLLAB SHARED
The alternative layout is a form-centered exercise which divides the
geometry of the square into sections. The gesture here is the creation of a
new module which takes the old module and divides it. This module is then
taken and combined into three pieces, which are in turn combined into 3 more
pieces to form a pinwheel. The organization is similar to the donut layout in
that the center areas are communal spaces and periphery areas are directed
learning spaces. However, the types of spaces are more dispersed and adapt to
the pinwheel geometry.
Ultimately, the form of these environments is ﬂexible. The ideas can be
adapted to ﬁt current school layouts, and new entirely new layouts. The current
pedagogy and means of teaching almost require spaces to be completely
rectilinear to function. It is partially the reason designers get in trouble when
proposing new forms. The teachers of these spaces ﬁnd nooks to be awkward,
rather than see them as opportunities for a different environment.
These ideas are not necessarily new, and we have witnessed many
schools and many teachers changing the current system. What is most
important in speculating on educational spaces of the future, is how teaching
and learning will occur in these spaces. If the current system of education
remains, then whatever form the spaces take in the future is diminished. The
form does not matter unless the idea that generates the form is upheld. In
recognition of current grassroots educational movements across the country,
we speculate there will be a shift in public education and our attitudes toward
public education as a culture. What we hope for is a renewed appreciation for
public education and a re-imagination of their learning environments. The
process may be difﬁcult. Even our team of young designers, who are not
steeped in decades of educational design experience, found the task of re-
imagining educational spaces formidable. In attempting to create form from an
idea, we often found ourselves relying on previous experiences and previous
precedent in organizing space. Such is evident in the ﬁrst plan presented in this
document and the video. Breaking ourselves from preconceived notions of
space is our next hurdle.
Public education is a civil right, one which everyone in this nation
collectively agreed upon in the past. It is our duty as designers of these future
environments not to forget this, and to continue pushing the boundaries and
challenging previous ideas.
re-imagining school design for the future