How does one begin to summarize a project (two?) that has been under multiple transformations within the past 6 months? But not only has this been a evolution of design, but an evolution of thought. We would have never expected to be taken on this journey, and for us to be impacted by it the way it has been. From Robbie’s project, to Boomerang, to Inside-Out, this project, this journey, has become a lesson of a lifetime.
When our class came back from Chicago, we had all written our own personal education manifestos to help organize our thoughts, inspirations, and developments. One of the overall themes that carried within each manifesto is the idea of these “connectors”, the catalysts that provided an opportunity for change, development, growth, and even conflict. We drew upon the ideas and motivating spirit of the Preamble, in order to properly write something that can be easily relateable. These connectors helped our class as a whole develop our views and opinions regarding 21st century learning, and what it truly needs. But how does this tie into architecture and design?
We (Vera and Karina) set aside 3 themes that we believed truly encompassed what we wanted our project to showcase. These themes being: central courtyards which influence the program and structure of the project, the ability to balance indoor and outdoor environments in order to create a dynamic atmospheric experience, and to create a home for the “lifelong learners” of the school, where everyone is able to find a space to nest in.
Now before we dive into our “connectors,” let’s investigate what truly developed and evolved the very specific shape of our project to what it is now.
When we first adopted Robbie’s project, we were pretty excited about the shape, the movement, but were not very inspired with the program incorporated into the project. We felt that before we even attempted to tackle something as complex as program, that we should really adopt the project, make it our own, and make sure we knew it from the inside-out (get it?)
Robbie’s project had a lot of 30’+ cantilevers, and we felt that the overall movement of the project was very intriguing but that these cantilevers did not do much for the form and movement. So why not close them up and see what happens? After dozens of sheets of trace and many investigations, we found that closing the cantilevers and playing around with different lines being parallel or not to each other, helped give us our final form. This is where we developed our courtyards and bridges which were to be emphasized throughout the rest of the design process.
Once we figured out our shape and our overall concept, it was time for us to dive into what fueled the shape of our project – the courtyards.
When we first started with the project’s courtyard concept, we just worked with a hole in the floor plane, copy and pasted a giant tree into the plans (Mark’s worst nightmare), and named it “courtyard.” But how does this in any way help the environment of the school?? It doesn’t. A common theme in projects with courtyards is that the outdoor space often becomes dusty, dead, and unused. This is a pity because courtyards can be a beautiful opportunity to connect the client with elements outside of the building. So how do we make a courtyard a more usable, dynamic space?
Initially, our courtyards had a tall glazing system that went from the ground floor to the uppermost roof level, but considering this is a public (ish) school on the gorgeous central coast, we felt that this much glazing for such lenient and beautiful weather was not necessary, which is why we decided to open the courtyards up. The courtyard glazing system changed from a 2-4 story system, to a one story glazing system which evolved into a 3.5 foot high railing. Not only that, but we decided to pull the roof above the courtyards back 15 feet as well, instead of having the roof opening directly above the courtyard, allowing ample light to flow into the building. Now the courtyards have transformed from a hole in a plan, into a beautiful space with a cool breeze, multiple-dimensional social connectivity, and an opportunity for the use of natural ventilation instead of wasting energy on AC.
INside vs. OUTside
Now how do we talk about talk about indoor and outdoor relationships without reciprocating what we already talked about with courtyards?
The courtyards helped fuel the structure, program, and overall layout of the building, but the indoor and outdoor relationships found within the project depend on where we drew the line between the physical, internal environment of the building, and the elements of the central coast. This is where the 3.5′ railing and pulled back roof came into play! When the barriers between the corridors and the courtyards are lowered, and the roof is pulled back, there is an environment created in which the students and faculty are able to communicate with each other from multiple stories, as well as being able to get a taste of the central coast ecosystem and incorporating it into the academic curriculum. These alternative barriers provide unique moments within the project in which you are able to be inside and outside of the building at the same time!
Home Away From Home
One problem which we saw to be very eminent in the current education system is how students often dread going to school. This is a hard issue to deal with because certain changes to a student’s attitude towards school must be made with a deep understanding regarding the elements that affect said student’s attitude. Improving the overall motivation amongst the students also makes it easier on faculty as well, and creates a family-like atmosphere, or so is the goal. But how are the issues remedied?
Students in their teen years are going through many developmental changes, emotionally, physically, psychologically, so they need a home base in which they can foster themselves. Our goal is to create a school where every student has a place, whether it be a private comfy chair in a sunny corner to study, or an area where dozens of peers can gather and socialize. It’s also crucial to improve student-faculty relationships as well, which is why we tried to provide very homey and free-flowing common areas in each of our clusters, to provide students and faculty the opportunity to have a home-base of sorts. This is also very important to students who do not necessarily have a safe home environment to let go, which is why we must have as many spatial (an emotional) opportunities for the students as possible.
Another way which we addressed these problems is redefining the definition of a classroom. Maybe it’s been said a lot, but it hasn’t been said enough in this studio, but the best way to make a project successful is to investigate how a space if actually defined! Traditional classrooms have had the same setup for basically hundreds of years. Rows of desks filled with sleepy and angsty students, with an equally sleepy and angsty teacher talking AT the students. Minimal information is absorbed, minimal social relationships are formed, and minimal experiences are taken away from the day, month, year. To remedy this, we investigated a concept of moving classrooms. Classrooms which are bordered, not with walls, but with sliding glass doors, and rotating nana walls. These “unconventional” methods of defining a spatial border help to create learning environments where the students and faculty are constantly moving and engaged, where teachers can team up an add a different dimension to the learning experience, but to also maintain the concept of the “home base” so that there is minimal stress upon the students and staff. These spaces are not made to have rows of desks lined up for students to fall asleep in, but are made to ensure that everyone is getting what need out of the space and more.