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St. Mark's School Creates a Center for Intellectual Innovation

07.05.13 / Jan Taylor, AIA, LEED AP

Having been out of school now for more years than I was in school, these days, June is not so much about the end of the school year as it is a time for reunions. It is the time when people return to their old high schools to see how everyone and everything has changed over the years. Recently, I joined a group of alums at St. Mark’s School in Southborough, Mass as they revisited their campus to see how the school has changed.

St. Mark’s is a “school under one roof.” It is primarily a single, historic structure, built over 100 years ago that houses the both the academic and residential life of the students. Over the past few years, ARC has been working on a number of projects to renovate and update the school’s main building. The latest project focused on a portion of the building that was originally the main schoolroom. Historically, this room housed rows of desks surrounded by blackboards and venerable wood paneling. Class plaques representing each class year dating back to 1865 were set into the paneling throughout the room, carved with the names of every graduate.

(Above photo is of the school during the 1970's)

In the 1970’s the space was converted into the Forbes Center, a student lounge space complete with sunken seating, split levels and knotty pine paneling. And as the classes grew, the plaques were hung wherever they would fit.  It was a casual space, reminiscent of a good friend’s basement. More recently, when St. Mark’s updated their institutional vision, part of that vision included returning the intellectual life to the heart of the school. Today, a large component of learning happens outside the classroom and the school sought to create a space that allowed for both the academic and the social heart of the school to coexist. The goal was to design a place where the traditions and character of the school are respected but also a place that meets the needs of the 21st century learning environment.

I had the opportunity to introduce the alumni to St. Mark’s new Center for Innovation in Teaching and Learning. A 3-level space in the volume of the old school room that contains a state of the art presentation space - allowing students access to schools and students around the world, study rooms and facilities for group work and student-teacher interaction, as well as a large social gathering space, with all the connectivity today’s students need… including really large speakers!

The traditions live on in the wooden paneling that surrounds the room; the paneling accommodates the wooden class plaques allowing them to be shifted so that each year a new plaque can be added. The response to the space was overwhelmingly positive. The questions as we toured ranged from “where do the students get their snacks now” to “how do you foresee this space adapting even further as the current teaching trends change?”  

The project has transformed an underutilized space and creating a lively and welcoming space for both students and faculty. I can only hope the new space holds up as well as the St. Mark’s alumni seem to have.

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