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How Architects Transform Traditional Schools into Modern Campuses

Sep 23, 2019 / Nichiha

As you know, architects have known for years that their designs of K–12 schools can directly impact the quality of student learning. But with many Los Angeles schools undergoing massive renovations or expansions, a quick retelling of what researchers have learned about the symbiotic relationship between school design and learning is worth a deeper dive.

A survey by the U.S. Department of Education of hundreds of K-12 school administrators "found that 43 percent consider the condition of classrooms and buildings as interfering with the ability of the school to deliver instruction," reported HuffPost. In yet another study in the U.K., researchers examined the impact of architectural design features like classroom orientation, natural light, acoustics, temperature, air quality and color, on learning. Researchers concluded, "classroom architecture and design significantly affected academic performance."

The majority of the nation’s classrooms are remnants of century-old design practice that embraced a so-called “cells and bells” philosophy, according to Edsurge. Cells are the classes students learn in until the bell signals it's time to move to another room. From a street view, few of these schools blended into the local environment. Indeed, many looked like they rolled off an assembly line and were randomly dropped into neighborhoods.

Thankfully, architects are transforming cubes as classrooms into rooms without walls and beautiful exteriors that seamlessly fade into neighborhoods. "School architects are tossing out industrial-era blueprints that emphasized enclosed, single-use spaces connected by long hallways designed to move students rapidly between bell periods," says Edutopia. Additionally, single-use areas like cafeterias, theaters and libraries, can quickly be transformed into rooms that serve the needs of the public, such as meeting rooms and community centers.

According to Edutopia, "Architectural transparency, the principle of visual interconnectedness, is an emerging standard in new school construction. Internal spaces like hallways, classrooms and cafeterias — typically separated from each other by opaque structures like walls and doorways — have given way to open layouts that emphasize glass partitions and uninterrupted lines of sight."

Modern School Design Sunset Ridge

The Challenge of Urban School Design

L.A.’s HMC Architects says one of the advantages of urban school design is the “opportunity to make strong connections between an educational campus and its surrounding community.” Architects can design schools with the community in mind, which helps the public see the school as something for them, too. To be sure, “the design of a school is the most outward expression of a community’s investment in education,” says HMC Architects.

As architects design new schools and update existing campuses in urban settings, they are looking to modern materials that offer a broad range of exterior design flexibility with color and texture to help them create buildings that blend naturally into local neighborhoods. "Color plays a big role in any campus design; it can bring a bright spot to a neighborhood, bring attention to the main point of entry to help with wayfinding, and even visually break down the scale of a large building," says HMC Architects. At the same time, cladding material must also be durable, resilient and cost-effective.

Modern School Design Montana 

Nichiha’s Newly Approved LAUSD Fiber Cement Cladding

Since it offers more design options than just about any other cladding materials, architects are turning to fiber cement to wrap more schools creatively. The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) recently approved Nichiha's fiber cement cladding for all new builds and renovations. With custom colors and a variety of textures, such as wood, Nichiha is giving architects the tools to explore the limits of their creativity.

Because this code-compliant and LARR-tested architectural wall panel system can match the appearance and qualities of stone or concrete at a much lower price point, the material is ideal for more budget-constrained, tax-funded projects like schools. Fiber cement cladding also delivers the same benefits of more pricey alternatives.

Modern School Design Sunset Ridge

The inexorable blurring of lines between L.A.’s classrooms and surrounding communities is transforming how kids are learning, and morphing schools into resources for all. By applying modern design principles and leveraging cutting-edge materials, architects have a hand in how new generations of kids will learn and grow.

Breakthrough your design boundaries with Nichiha's architectural wall panels. Let's talk.

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