Essential Aspects of Designing a School
By
C. Kenneth Tanner
School Design and Planning Laboratory
The University of Georgia
Athens, GA 30602
April 2000

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Over the past several months the School Design and Planning Laboratory (SDPL) has been conducting research to find school design variables that influence student achievement. Our samples have been in the State of Georgia and may not necessarily generalize to other areas. We were successful in finding 29 design patterns that significantly relate to student achievement. In all cases statistical controls were placed on social and economic variables to eliminate bias. The following list represents findings from two studies. All of the school design categories were assessed by a valid and reliable scale and correlated significantly with student achievement (Alpha = .05). The research represents findings concerning the cognitive aspect of learning. We have not examined the behavioral or affective dimensions, but these areas are on our research agenda.

Essential Design Principles

Context - The school and grounds are compatible with the surroundings and sufficient to facilitate the curriculum and programs. This principle relates to personality of place and "in harmony" with nature and the surroundings.  Example >>

Pathways - Clearly defined areas that allow freedom of movement among structures. These play a vital role in the way people interact with buildings. Pathways may also connect buildings to one another so that a person can walk under the cover of arcades. Example 1; Example 2; Example 3


Entrance Area - A friendly space connecting the outside world to the inside world. This age appropriate space should be inviting and highly visible for students and visitors. It should evoke a welcome feeling. Age appropriate refers to scale. For example, a huge and threatening entrance with bold colors is not good for an elementary school. Example 1; Example 2; Entrance 3


Public Areas - Spaces that foster a sense of community (unity and belonging) were identified as public areas (Auditorium, Amphitheater, Media Center, Commons, and Dining Room). Inviting and comfortable settings include ample lighting. Example


Administration Centralized - Administrative offices are grouped together in a centralized area allowing for connection and convenience. The person in charge should be readily accessible.


Circulation Patterns - Ample spaces that allow students to circulate in and between rooms should be part of the design. The passages should be broad and well-lit allowing for freedom of movement. This pattern is also related to crowding.


Instructional Neighborhoods Within Schools -
These areas include a teacher planning area, flex zones, small and large group areas, wet areas for science and art, a hearth area, and restrooms (toilets). The hearth area is also a place used for reading and quiet time. It is amenable to technology.  Example >>


Multifunctionality of the Facility - Multifunctionality reflects how versatile the facility is in relation to the different tasks it can accomplish. Example1


Physical Education Areas- P. E. or play areas are special places where students are given the opportunity to be together, exercise, build muscles, and test new skills in supervised settings. Releasing energy is an important activity seen in these areas.


Activity Pockets - Spaces should be designed for small group work.


Safe Place - The indoor and outdoor environments guarantee students and teachers security and comfort. Supervisable circulation patterns, security systems, safe grounds and equipment, and toilets in classrooms are important safety factors.


Personal Artifacts -
Places for display of items of a personal nature that relate to each student improve school design. Example


Classroom Walls -
Walls are conducive for displaying students' work. Hallway Display - Hallways (walls and alcoves) are suitable for displaying student work.


Windows -
These should give the best possible views overlooking life and bring natural light into the school building. The SDPL recommends at least 72 square feet for windows in a 900 square feet classroom. [http://sdpl.coe.uga.edu/research/territoriality.html] Example1 Example 2


Natural Light/ Full Spectrum - Artificial light plus natural light from the outside, preferably on two sides of every room, is ideal. Natural light influences student behavior and attitudes. Example


Green Areas - Educationally sound school design includes places outside, close to the school building, where trees, grass, or gardens may be seen, but no cars or roads are in view. Example 1


Living Views - Views of indoor and outdoor spaces (gardens, animals, fountains, mountains, people, etc.) improve school design. Views allow minds and eyes to take a break. Views should not be blocked by curtains, blinds, or other obstructions. Example


Quiet Areas - Quiet areas are spaces where students may go to pause and refresh themselves in a quiet and supervised setting.


Private Spaces for Students -
Supervised private places (inside or outside) where children may go to be alone (i.e. reading area, listening area) are essential.


Technology for Students - Special spaces with computers, compact discs, software, internet connections, television, and video are important for learning activities. In our studies the schools that made computers available for student learning showed higher academic achievement on the average. This finding was after social and economic variables had been accounted for. Example


Technology for Teachers - Computers, multimedia, and internet connections are easily accessible. Teachers have access to technology outside the media center for use in research and planning lessons.


Communications - Phones in classrooms, intercom, faxes, e-mail and internet are necessary for educationally sound design.


Outdoor Rooms - A partly enclosed space outdoors; enough like a room, but with the added beauties of nature. This is a room with a sense of freedom. This may be a reading ares, a lecture area, or an area for exploring natural habitat. It might be an amphitheater in a natural setting. Example 1: Example2

Outdoor Spaces - Places which are defined learning areas. They may be surrounded by wings of buildings, trees, hedges, fences, fields, arcades or walkways. These are specific areas that are used as outdoor learning environments such as nature trails. Example


Egress - Doors allow easy access to the outside environment and learning areas. This is also a safety feature allowing for quick evacuation. The SDPL recommends that each classroom (ground level) should have a door leading to an outside patio and gardens (Outdoor learning environments).


Climate Control - A system of climate control maintains a comfortable temperature in the classroom learning environment. Climate controls should be within each indoor learning environment where the teacher may have control of the temperature range.


Roof system - A leaking roof can disrupt student learning. The roof plays an important part in the health and comfort of the students and teachers.


Paint - The quality and color of the paint in the halls and classrooms influence behavior. The walls and finishes should be visually stimulating. For more information on color please refer to our link at [http://sdpl.coe.uga.edu/researchabstracts/bestpractices/visualbp.html]


Overall Impression -
A student friendly and teacher friendly learning environment provides a positive impression. This involves aspects of all positive or negative design patterns.


Note: Research by graduate students ( Dr.Scott Andersen and Ms. Elizabeth Jago) has been condensed into the above set of findings. Members of the Department of Educational Leadership who served on the research committees also played a significant role in keeping the research unbiased and sound.

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