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Spatial Learning & Place-Making: A Collaborative Design Process

04.06.18 / Alexa Asakiewicz & Victor Agran

 

Every building has essential spaces needed to make a structure functional. A great building enhances these program areas with a uniting conceptual framework. In our work, we rely on this framework to guide our design process and aid us in developing transformative places to foster growth and learning.  

Eagle Hill School educates students identified with learning (dis)abilities by providing an intimate and encouraging community that honors the individual and values a diversity of learning styles. The success of students at Eagle Hill School follows from a deep commitment to the idea that difference is the norm - each person is better understood as unique rather than an example of disability. 

When approaching Eagle Hill’s new building, ARC strived to make the design emblematic of Eagle Hill School pedagogy.  We sought to create spaces to foster spatial learning, student interaction, and sense of place within their program of science labs, classrooms, maker spaces, and a library.

Eagle Hill’s values became ARC’s foundational concepts for the building:

  • Every student can learn.

  • Learning differently demands teaching differently, and thus, designing differently.

  • Partnerships are an essential component in the pursuit of academic and social development.

  • Difference is the norm.

  • Learning is about making connections – physical, intellectual and emotional. 

As design concepts emerged and we incorporated the core principles into the building, the process became more dynamic and interactive. In a mix of formal presentations and impromptu discussions, frequent design reviews between EHS and ARC facilitated the development of what the school termed “Emergent Pedagogy” - where creativity, experimentations and collaboration are fostered by multi-functional spaces adapted to different needs and experiences. The design provides opportunities for students to make physical and visual connections across the building. Through that engagement, learning becomes three dimensional and evolves with spaces that respond nimbly to changing needs and interests.

Located at the edge of the EHS academic core, the new building was developed as a gateway and new face for the Eagle Hill School.  The concept of path became a critical foundation for the design team. ARC studied how students would experience space along the path, how the building could enhance the connection of students on different paths, and how the structure would respond to its use. As a result of this exploration, the form shifted on the site to respond to the existing topography and engage the paths of the students as they approached and passed through the building.

 

Collaboration, display, and student interaction are important for the Eagle Hill School pedagogy and because of this, transparency and visibility became paramount in the design. The building enhances interaction and collaboration by exposing the spaces within and fostering visual and physical connections between students and faculty.  The structure invites you to take part in the activities it puts on display and learn something while doing so.

Preliminary Concept Diagram

Progressed Design

Congruent to the dialogue of openness and transparency, a concept of solid and void spaces evolved as a means of differentiating essential functional elements (like classrooms and labs) and more loosely defined interaction and project spaces. From there, every step and decision made during the design process sought to emphasize and enhance this concept.  In the plan, a dichotomy developed between the solid classroom interior and the transparent program spaces that faced outward. Glazing was specifically placed at key areas of interaction to expose activity to the rest of the school and invite them to participate.

Solid and Void Diagrams

 
 
 

Throughout the design process, the team continuously asked how every aspect of the design could enhance the core ideas. Every moment in the project was challenged to improve the sense of place and foster opportunities for spatial learning. The flooring, interior glazing and material choices were all put to the test to strengthen the concept. 

EHS Concept Diagram

Ultimately, EHS’s new STEM+ building offers spaces that support interaction and connectivity in a simple and thoughtful way. Functionally, the building has space for academic classrooms, but also creates alternative areas for interactive learning on each student’s path. The transparency provides clear views to the campus, while also inviting the viewer in and offering a visual path through the spaces.

(Video Link) For a deeper look, take a walk through the new EHS STEM+ building and keep an eye out for the ideas of solid and void, transparency, and adjacency.

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