K-12 Education Design Trends – Q&A with Diana Swensson, ATS&R, Interior Design

Diana Swensson

Diana Swensson, Interior Designer with ATS&R, joins us to explain industry trends and her work in educational spaces.

1. Across all segments, we’ve recently seen a shift toward human centered design. How are you working to design spaces that focus on social interaction and collaboration in the K-12 environment?

We’ve looked for innovative ways of providing spaces that encourage collaboration and interaction between peers and teachers. Flexible furniture that supports multi-use opportunities for large and small groups and providing seamless use of technology throughout schools has been key in developing collaborative spaces.

Using fewer dividing walls, more open and multi-use spaces, “main street” concepts and lounge seating makes it easier for groups – large or small – to find unique and flexible spaces in which to socialize and work.

A new educational program being offered in Owatonna, MN, “The Options Program”, is adapting to our changing world. Students sign up to be a part of a program that uses personalized graduation plans.  It draws on research projects, professional mentorships and collaboration to help students meet the state requirements for graduation, so it was important in designing this project that we included adaptable spaces that encouraged collaboration. This is only one example of how we can design effective spaces that will encourage different types of learning.

(Owatonna High School, Owatonna, MN – Options Program)

2. How has the influx of technology in the classroom changed the way you design K-12 spaces?

In recent years we’ve seen a change in how learning is happening, all we have to do is look around us. At coffee shops, airports libraries, even in kitchens and living rooms, lifelong learners have their laptops open and smartphones in constant motion. They are texting, e-mailing, and researching information. Today’s lifelong learner uses technology constantly – to find the answers, facilitate relationships and create pathways to learn more. Furniture has become a very important piece of design and space planning to support advances in technology. In my work, I focus on Learner Centered Design” – creating spaces that fit the learning or teaching method or style so that learning can happen anywhere, especially with the use of technology. As a result, it’s important to specify furniture that supports technology use. Desks and chairs with built-in power connections, moveable, flexible workstations, smart boards and projection tools as well appropriate lighting are all important pieces in developing a functional space.

3. How can designers create beautiful and functional K-12 spaces that are also environmentally sustainable?

By specifying materials that are low maintenance, high performing and long lasting designers can have a huge impact on the sustainability profile of the projects they work on. In today’s market there are an abundance of products that are both sustainable and aesthetically pleasing, making attractive and sustainable design easier to achieve than in years past. By using schools as a teaching tool, we can educate our students by incorporating some fun elements that are also sustainable, such as sun flower bulletin boards, green roofs, recycled carpet or vinyl tile flooring that doesn’t require harsh chemicals or polishes. Many sustainable design elements are can also be incorporated through the use of signage that encourages students and faculty to make sustainable choices.

Cortland Elementary School, DeKalb, ILCortland Elementary School, DeKalb, ILCortland Elementary School, DeKalb, IL

(Cortland Elementary School, DeKalb, IL)

4. With the reduction of available federal and state funding of K-12 institutions, how can designers help schools get more ‘bang for their buck’?

Many of the ideas we mentioned above will help in this area – designers will need to bring in materials that are durable, long-lasting and low maintenance. This will help to ease maintenance, repair & replacement costs of building materials, finishes and furniture.  Lighting and HVAC systems should be carefully designed to incorporate natural day lighting and energy efficient systems should be considered throughout the building – many energy credits can be gained this way, and operating costs can be reduced.

Incorporating flexible, modular furniture which can be easily reconfigured can reduce the amount of furniture necessary for a space

As designers, our clients often believe that using low cost materials will save money, but in the long run it tends to end up costing more money to replace and renovate their buildings. It’s important to educate our clients and provide sound solutions that will benefit them long term.

Click here for more information about education design trends.

1 Mike Kennedy, By Design article, January 1, 2002, accessed March 7, 2011, http://asumag.com/mag/university_design/index.html

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