Image above: Four Bray team members attended the 2021 LearningSCAPES conference of the Association for Learning Environments in Denver, Colorado. Above from left to right: Maria Welch, senior project specialist; Andrew Iverson, architect and project leader; Kate Egan, architect and project leader; and Allison Mastel, architect and project leader.
Raising Awareness of an Important Organization for Educational Space Planning
Four team members from Bray Architects attended the 2021 annual conference of the Association for Learning Environments (A4LE). The multi-day conference, titled LearningSCAPES, included speakers and panels who presented urgent issues related to school design. These issues ranged from school safety to planning spaces that support students’ physical and mental health.
A4LE is an organization that connects professionals who work to improve the spaces where children learn. These professionals may include architects, school administrators, educators, facility managers, and vendors.
Architect and accredited learning environment planner Andrew Iverson, an A4LE member since 2007, has increasingly seen more architects and fewer educators attend the A4LE conferences.
“There was once more of a balance between architects and school officials,” he recalls. “Now, that balance has fallen away because of the strain on the education system. Financial pressures, time, and awareness of the organization are all challenges to retaining a broader base of participants.”
Raising Awareness of A4LE
It is critical that architects and designers receive input from those who are in the school every day. There is a mutual benefit to educators’ involvement at events like the A4LE LearningSCAPES Conference.
Architects value learning about the experiences of what does and does not work in the classroom. In return, educators will gain insight into the design process. This will help them be better prepared when their district is ready to begin their next project.
How do architects encourage more engagement from school leaders in A4LE? As a first step, it’s important to make them aware that the organization exists and that they understand the value of their participation.
Even if educators can’t attend a national conference, they might be available for a local or regional one. The organization has over 35 chapters across the country. Many chapters offer local meetings, seminars, and other events that encourage conversations about school planning.
Another great way to raise awareness of the A4LE is through students. The organization offers a program called Schools Next, a design competition for middle and high school students. The competition challenges them to design learning environments based on a common curriculum.
Schools Next has the potential to benefit everyone. Students learn the design process, and school leaders can borrow the students’ ideas when planning for new spaces. Architects can serve as mentors for the students and strengthen their relationship with the school.
The competition could help everyone be ready for their school’s next design project. “The Schools Next program give students more influence,” says Allison Mastel, architect and project leader at Bray. “I also think teachers and school officials are more likely to listen to student feedback if they already have some the necessary vocabulary.”
Advocating for A4LE
Programs such as the A4LE LearningSCAPES Conference and Schools Next competition provide opportunities for architects to connect with their educational clients. These opportunities offer dedicated time and space for all stakeholders to collaborate on ideas for strengthening school spaces.
Engaging more of these stakeholders will require architects and design professionals to continue to advocate for this important organization.
Be sure to also check out our takeaways from the 2019 A4LE LearningSCAPES Conference.