The Classroom - Extended:
A Teaching Studio in House of the Wood
The client’s mission is to help low-income families and individuals take personal responsibility, explore opportunities and options, and become or remain self-sufficient members of society. The school component of this mission helps inner-city children develop the physical, mental and emotional skills they need to contribute to the larger society.
The school classroom is situated in an urban context, but offers a unique alternative with access to two rooms in two very different environments. Being urban, the base classroom exists in a dense condition close to the students’ home neighborhoods. The second classroom – the extended classroom - is a satellite extension of the urban room located away from the city in a rural condition. It offers an alternative to the typical teaching environment offered to children from this cultural background.
The client describes their school mission as the following:
‘Limited expectations, lack of information and isolation are countered by new learning experiences that promote self-confidence, motivation, and an increased awareness of opportunities in the world beyond the local community’.
The extension of the classroom into the alternative environment will further these goals of teaching positive lifestyles, leadership skills, self-motivation and awareness of the world outside one’s immediate context.
During interviews and discussions with students, teachers and administrators, several recurring themes emerged. The children expressed an interest in an environment that they could adjust. They wanted the ability to have some control over their space. They wanted a feeling of ownership. The teachers and administrators responded that their teaching spaces must be flexible, durable and be places that foster the children’s curiosity and creativity. All involved expressed an interest in having a rural classroom that allows for a relationship with nature.
The design of the rural classroom is rooted in the idea of an extension of the urban classroom. Through this extension, the students gain an awareness of many new and different things and develop the self-confidence that comes along with this awareness.
The design of the room helps to increase the experience of context by heightening the differences and similarities between the two places of learning. The connection between the urban and the rural teaching environments is reinforced by providing spaces that allow the children to create new personal items and see them in different contexts.
The awareness of context encourages the recognition of sustainability issues. While supporting the specific spatial program needs such as flexibility, storage and material durability, the room also helps to provide an increased understanding of the natural environment. The orientation of the building elements on the site reinforces this understanding. The space created within the enclosed building becomes an operable frame for viewing the natural surroundings. Through the use of wall openings (some operable others not), and exterior spaces, the room extends into the natural environment. One end of the classroom opens onto the deck with views towards the lake. The other end extends to the garden and rainwater collection system. Walls are oriented to allow cross ventilation and to control solar heat gain. Exterior cladding is indigenous and recycled materials are used throughout.
The elements of the design used to create an appropriate classroom condition form the infrastructure of the physical teaching environment. The flexibility of the modular furniture enhances the teacher’s ability to form the space to their needs. The interactive nature of the building components allow the students to take ownership of their space. Reinforcing the notion of extension, these same internal modular elements may be used to construct an urban classroom having the same requirements.
Ideas of sustainability, flexibility, and economic feasibility are demonstrated by the efficiency of the building systems. The structural frame is proposed to be structural insulated panels (SIP) that provide a repetitive structural module for ease of assembly. The SIP panels not only provide structure, insulation, doors, windows, and roof, but also include integrated classroom furniture and storage elements. The furniture panels act as a classroom kit of parts which can be maneuvered and adjusted according to need. Desks fold down for table assignments or fold up to allow for more open space. This classroom flexibility encourages students and teachers to create and take ownership of their space.
By providing an extended classroom that is specifically rooted in its context and culture while also being flexible and adaptable, the client is provided with the environment that allows them to meet the goals of preparing students to positively contribute to society.
The principals of the design are universal.
The elements of the design are replicable and adaptable.