Educational Architecture:
School Facilities Planning, Design, Construction, and Management


Dr. C. Kenneth Tanner, REFP
University of Georgia


Dr. Jeff A. Lackney, AIA
University of Wisconsin, Madison

Chapter 1
History of Educational Architecture

The history of the American schoolhouse reflects the history of education that in turn mirrors a plethora of contextual societal forces including social, economic and political. Architectural form, aesthetics, symbolism and layout of the school building should be directly influenced by the evolution of educational philosophy and goals, curricular objectives, instructional methods, and cultural background and value systems of the schools' governing boards. The architecture of the small one-room country school building was an appropriate design response that served the basic educational and social needs of small rural communities for well over two hundred years starting in the Colonial period of the United States. As the social problems associated with the Industrial Revolution grew in the mid and late 19th century, the need for educating larger groups of immigrants in urban centers became a necessity. The Common School movement and large multistoried classroom buildings provided the necessary educational and architectural response at that time. After World War II, societal changes created by the baby boom created a need for school construction never before seen. The rate of building demanded new methods of school building construction that allowed for further experimentation in flexible and adaptable space for education. Along with innovations in educational delivery suggested by the Progressive Movement lead principally by John Dewey, school architecture soon responded with more child-scaled, flexible and open environmental settings.



An overview of three periods of educational architecture, the Colonial period, the Industrial Revolution and the Information Age, demonstrates how educational facilities have evolved over time in response to societal and political influences. The Colonial period (1650 ­ 1849) was characterized by an agrarian society in which many did not value formal education. Education primarily occurred in informal settings, such as the home or church, and the main focus was to teach children a trade or skill. The country one-room schoolhouse in small villages typifies educational buildings of the Colonial period. Similar structures were utilized in urban areas, but to accommodate more students they often included two or more self-contained rooms. As cities grew, there was a need to educate larger groupings of students. In response, the Lancasterian Monitorial System that utilized older students serving as monitors to teach younger children, allowed one educator to provide instruction for hundreds of students.

The Industrial Revolution (1850-1949) occurred as factories proliferated in the U.S. to produce products such as firearms, textiles and sewing machines. The Common School movement arose between 1840 and 1880 in response to a belief that education provided mainly by family members or through apprenticeships was insufficient to prepare children to work in factories and offices. Educational reformers, including Henry Barnard and Horace Mann, argued that public education was essential to our nation's economic success. Beginning in the middle of the 19th century, schools typically were comprised of classrooms and corridors, but by the end of the century schools often incorporated specialized spaces such as auditoriums and administrative offices. Specialized facilities for junior high and high schools emerged during the Industrial Revolution. The Progressive Movement of the late 19th century, led principally by John Dewey, focused on child-centered education and flexible spaces.

The Information Age (1950 to present), following World War II, is characterized by a society in which people appreciate travel, celebrate diversity, and seek to reintegrate their work and family lives. The baby boom fueled the need for many new schools that were often built as quickly and cheaply as possible, resulting in buildings with poor insulation and low quality building systems. The open classroom became popular during the 1950's through the early 1970's to encourage group work and team teaching, but changes in teaching styles often did not accompany the changes in classroom design and teachers complained of distractions. During the 1960's criticism that public schools were not adequately addressing the needs of minority and low-income students gave rise to the alternative schools (e.g., freedom schools and street academies) movement. This movement is believed to have influenced many other educational reforms, including magnet and charter schools, school-to-work initiatives and the more recent re-emergence of home schooling. The concept of the community school has re-emerged as city and county agencies seek to leverage tax dollars to create joint-use facilities that involve the local community in student education. During the Information Age, computers have become an absolute necessity for students. Once housed in media centers, computers may now be found anywhere on campus through the use of wireless and palmtop technologies.
Throughout the history of American education, educational reformers have often met strong opposition to their theories about how children should be taught what they need to know to succeed in society. Even as new ideas are adopted, it often takes many years for the physical school setting to respond to changes in pedagogy.

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