Graphic depicting different school community groups being connected to the school's design

Celebrating Your School Community Through Architecture

By: Maria Welch, Assoc. AIA | Senior Project Specialist

We have all heard, “it takes a village to raise a child.” For a school, it takes a village to provide a well-rounded educational experience. This “village” creates the school community, and while the list might vary by school, most communities include these integral groups:

    • Students
    • Teachers + staff
    • Alumni + past students
    • School Board members
    • Community members

It is important that districts capture the needs of these stakeholder groups early in the design process to ensure that the new design reflects not only the needs of the entire community but also the culture that the community creates. Our goal is to distill the information received from all groups, helping the school define its identity and culture, which ultimately informs unique aspects of the school’s architectural design. While most stakeholders’ needs can be met through thoughtful space planning and building layout, we go further by considering and celebrating the school’s community at all scales of the project.

Graphic of Scales of a project at which community groups are considered

Below are examples of how different groups within a school community can be reflected in the different scales of a building’s design.


EXTERIOR MASSING / RELATION TO SURROUNDING CONTEXT

The school’s greater community and the values that unite the school, neighborhood, and town can be reflected in the building’s site placement and planning. There is often an opportunity to connect the school’s site with the surrounding urban or natural environment.

Site plan of Forest Edge Elementary School

Forest Edge Elementary School was designed to fully engage and interact with the future neighborhood that is planned to grow around it. The building’s main entrance opens toward future community buildings, and sidewalks are planned to connect this network of sustainable resource spaces.

Split graphic of Port Washington High School Cafeteria and Corridor with views of trees outside

The design at Port Washington High School includes large walls of windows to provide natural light and offer sweeping views of the surrounding trees and fields, reflecting the community’s connection to nature and embracing its surroundings.

EXTERIOR DESIGN

The exterior appearance of the school building can connect school identity to the greater community and act as a landmark in the geography of the surrounding village or city.

Exterior of Fall Creek High School after dusk

Fall Creek School District and surrounding community take great pride in their school mascot. Fall Creek High School incorporated this vibrantly into the exterior design, connecting students, staff, and locals.

Slinger High School Performing Arts Center designed by Bray Architects

The exterior treatment of the Slinger auditorium is designed with large windows to “glow” after dusk. This performance space, shared by the District and community groups, acts as beacon for the local community.

SPACE PLANNING

While it differs for every school, the layout of teaching and learning spaces, commons areas, and other resources within a school building is largely influenced by curricular requirements and teaching needs identified by the teachers and staff. Oftentimes, we consider how and to what degree teachers need flexibility to collaborate, and how proximity between spaces will benefit students throughout the day.

 Rendering of Sun Prairie Area School District Professional Development Center Designed by Bray Architects

As teaching and learning styles shift rapidly in this digital age, the Sun Prairie Area School District is building teachers a Professional Learning Center. This designated training and collaboration space, to be housed in the same building as the District’s alternative high school and one of its middle schools, will reflect the District’s priority of professional development.

Split graphic of Mayville spirit shop/coffee shop and the special education classroom designed by Bray Architects

Special education requirements and space design needs are unique to each school. At Mayville High School, a coffee shop is run by students in the special education program, encouraging interaction with other students while they learn social and life skills like customer service and food prep. An adjacent space, separated from the stimulating school environment, provides a more personalized space for specialized curricular needs.

INTERIOR ARCHITECTURE / DESIGN

The interior architecture of a school can uniquely reflect the people who inhabit it through flexible spaces that meet the needs of the students and educators. We strive to understand the scale of the spaces we design to ensure that there are varied, rich environments that inspire and support the activities taking place within each space.

Rendering of Columbus Elementary School corridor with built seating designed by Bray Architects

Unique seating options are built into the architecture at Columbus Elementary School. These seats located in common areas throughout the corridor will provide smaller spaces that are comfortable for independent quiet use by young students.

Friendship Learning Center Library Entrance with Built shelving that spells "Story Land" designed by Bray Architects

The entrance to the library at the Friendship Learning Center integrates the identity of the space within the built environment. Vertical shelves and seating spell “storyland,” inspiring students to explore and engage within.

THOUGHTFUL DETAILS

Unique details and finishes in K-12 schools can reflect many parts of the school community. Often these are a great way to reflect past generations who attended the school. The influence and impact that these stakeholders still have on the school can be celebrated within the new design.

Muskego Valley Elementary School Resource Area designed by Bray Architects

In a meaningful tribute to the original architecture, finish details in the resource areas at Mill Valley Elementary School of Muskego-Norway School District were made of repurposed wood planks from the school’s original gym floor.

Historic Display at Port Washington High School designed by Bray Architects

Port Washington High School places a high importance on the influence and legacy of the school’s history. An interactive installation was designed to highlight the school’s past for current and future generations to explore.

BRANDING

Environmental branding installations are often the most obvious mode of reflecting the school community’s culture and is the final touch in bringing these values and ideals to life. The visual representation of school culture can truly unite the community through identity, honor a school’s history, and inspire creativity every day.

Mayville High School Gym Lobby with Branded Wall Mural designed by Bray Architects

In the gym lobby at Mayville High School, a branded installation honors the school’s athletics history and unites current students with school pride.

Split graphic of geography-themed graphics at JC McKenna Middle School designed by Bray Architects

J.C. McKenna Middle School of Evansville Community School District was purposefully designed to be considerate of its residential context. Wall murals and wayfinding incorporate the geography of the city, offering a sense of familiarity and creating artistic, abstract visuals throughout the school.

The needs of community groups are always unique to each project, so no two projects should use the same formula. Understanding the individual stakeholder needs helps guide design decisions throughout the various scales of design, so that the details any scale, when in the context of the entire building, reflect and celebrate the school community’s true identity and culture.

 


 

Is your district in the facilities planning process or looking to start a design project? Please connect with us to learn more about how we can guide your district through the process to create solutions that reflect your community.