School Design: An Architect’s View

Architect and educator Jeffery A. Lackney, Assistant Professor in the
College of Engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, created “Thirty-Three Principles of Educational Design” to focus school planners on the goal of creating intimate, human-scaled, flexible and enduring
educational spaces.

A handful of the principles, adapted here for use in Horace, can help schools take advantage of opportunities to create small effective learning environments both within new school buildings and within existing spaces.

Community Involvement

Maximize Collaboration in School Planning and Design
Involve a wide spectrum of representatives from the community during
the planning and design of a school. Authentic participation can assist in building community support for the passage of bond issues as well as give the community a sense of ownership in the process and product.

Plan Schools as Neighborhood-Scaled Community Learning Centers
Plan for the traditional school building to be transformed into a community learning center. Allow shared school and community functions into a cohesive facility or network of closely adjacent facilities.

Plan for Learning to Take Place Directly in the Community
Formal educational program partnerships have been established with
museums, zoos, libraries and other public institutions, as well as in local business workplace settings. Sharing school and community facilities
prevents cost duplication for gymnasiums, auditoriums, performance spaces, and conferencing facilities.

Active Learning

Student as Worker
Design for a variety of learning groups and spaces. Allow for as wide a variety of group learning sizes as possible. Create partially open/partially closed space with adjacent, smaller, enclosed spaces. Ensure moderate visual openness, yet also ensure adequate acoustical barriers.

Provide Resource-Rich Well-Defined Activity Pockets
Ensure that each large-group, small-group, and individual learning space is an architecturally well-defined “activity pocket” for two to five learners with all the necessary surfaces, display, storage and resources. Activity pockets can take on a variety of architectural forms: simple learning centers, lofts, small alcoves and/or lecture pits. Include a variety of furniture layouts-some centripetal for group work, some facing outward for individual work.

Provide Studios to Support Project-Based Learning
New instructional methods based on real-world authentic learning and authentic assessment methods will require a new form of instructional space. Provide locations for the generation and storage of semester-long projects as well as student portfolios. Include space for individual, small group, and larger group productions, including but not limited to audio/visual/digital studios, dance and performance studios, workshops for various visual arts, photocopy machines, and large open project tables. Adjacent to the portfolio process studio, provide flexible experimental lab stations for groups or individuals to explore and demonstrate discoveries in the physical and biological sciences.

Establish a Variety of Outdoor Learning Environments
Create spaces outside and adjacent to the building on site or on neighboring sites that mirror learning space within the building. To maximize the chance of year-round use of parts of the outdoors, create favorable microclimates by protecting outdoor activity areas from prevailing winter winds and from the extreme summer sun while allowing winter sun to penetrate.

Teachers, Administrators and Parents

Regard Teachers as Professionals
Provide private or semi-private office space for teachers, including space
for personal belongings, phone/fax, personal computer, information
technologies, desk and personal library. Cluster teacher offices together,
but avoid overly large groups. The location of teacher offices should be
adjacent but not central to instructional areas-teachers are not the center of education, learners are. Provide conference rooms where larger groups of teachers can meet formally to exchange information and teaching experiences with themselves and with school visitors. Include formal and informal meeting space, with support areas such as kitchenettes, storage and private restrooms.

Encourage Administrative Leadership by Decentralizing Administrative Space
Decentralize administrative functions throughout the school/community learning center, yet ensure that each portion is visible to public areas of the school and not on the periphery of the school or hidden from view.

provide parent information centers
The parent information center can serve to help interested parents learn more about the school, to exchange and share their diverse knowledge and information on any number of topics, to act as a public relations office, and, most importantly, to act as a home base for parents within the school. Provide a separate entry for the public, an informal seating area with information about the school displayed so that visiting parents and the community can get an idea of school activities, and one or more private meeting rooms.

Home-like Elements

Consider Home as a Template for School
Use friendly, “home-like” elements and materials in the design of the school. Home-like characteristics might include: creating smaller groupings of students, locating restrooms near instructional areas, providing friendly and welcoming entry sequences, incorporating residentially sloping roofs, and including enclosed “backyards.”

Provide a Home Base for Every Learner
Within the physical boundaries of each instructional area, create a home base for each learner. Include cubbies and lockers for personal belongings arranged in small groups to provide space for informal social interaction. Allow learners to personalize their space as much as possible and they will gain a more positive sense of self and take pride and ownership in their school.

Create Privacy Niches
Develop several privacy niches or intimate counseling spaces for one-on-one or small group meetings for 2-4 persons that are relaxing, non-threatening, comfortable, and private. Include comfortable living room-type furniture.

Safety and Security

Design Meandering Pathways
Beware of long corridors, which are a costly percentage of a school building. Circulation areas can double as active learning spaces for the school. Design meandering pathways to increase opportunities for positive social interaction. Use circulation to create gentle transitions from different spaces, taking advantage of turns and bends to create unique areas of learning.

Design for Safe Schools
Three critical safe school design principles include access control, natural surveillance, and definition of territory. Natural access control uses doors, shrubs, fences, gates and other physical design elements to discourage access to an area by all but its intended users. Natural surveillance is
achieved by placing windows in locations that allow intended users to see or be seen, while ensuring that intruders will be observed as well. Adequate lighting, glass and landscaping that allow for unobstructed views enhance opportunities for surveillance. Territorial reinforcement suggests that physical design can contribute to users developing a sense of “ownership” that is perceived by potential offenders. Sidewalks, landscaping, porches and other elements that establish the boundaries between public and private areas define territory.

Find the unabridged text of ‘Thirty-Three Principles of Educational Design” along with superbly helpful references and pointers to more information, at