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Physics Classroom


Our competition submittal is a renovation and addition for a Physics Classroom, at Parkway Central High School, in the metropolitan St. Louis area. This school opened its doors in the late 1950s and has had several additions over the years as the population of this area of St. Louis County has risen and now leveled off. The school district is currently planning a science wing addition, but the Physics classrooms will remain in the existing building.

The proposed design of this Physics Classroom uses as much of the of the existing structure and walls, while inserting new walls and roof to meet the program presented by the teacher, Mrs. Meyer, and her students. Participation with the teacher and students included a charrette, an online meeting, assignments for the students given by Mrs. Meyer, and a juried presentation of the work completed at the halfway mark.

The program for the room requires that 24 students will be able to sit in a circle, with full view of each other, which led the round shape of the room. The round shape of the classroom was also dictated by everyone in the room being able to see either the projection screen or the smart board or both. The room took on a 14-sided shape once it was determined that a truly round shape would limit the use of space at student tables and that 8’ wide panels could be manufactured or built more efficiently and less expensively. An existing structural column is required to stay at one side of the classroom, with this space being used for classroom material storage, a sink and a parking space for the teacher’s mobile media cart. This area also has an exterior door leading to the Physics Playground

Left over space from the rectangular room that is being renovated includes a space for the many items that require storage for Physics courses. The current classroom that Mrs. Meyer’s uses has metal tall storage cabinets that can be moved into this storage space, while still leaving room for additional storage shelving and racks. The other area that is created with the left over space is an entry to the classroom, with a recycling area and cubbies for student backpacks and books. To the east of the 14-sided classroom will be an interactive hallway created from the demolition of a storage closet and a prep room.

General classroom attributes include storage for student work, by providing a wall cabinet and drawer base cabinet next to each group of student tables. The cabinets have been located so that the face of each cabinet is flush with the wall, therefore allowing uninterrupted floor space in the classroom. Mrs. Meyers plans on stocking these cabinets with typical supplies used in Physics, so that they are readily available to students during class. The base cabinets provide a counter in the adjoining classroom, Interactive Hallway, and the storage space. The wall cabinets will have electrical outlets inside them for charging laptops that will be stored on the bottom shelf.

With the many projects that are completed by Physics students, the program also calls for display areas in the classroom. This is accomplished with a 12” deep cabinet opening above each group of student tables. Boxes of differing sizes can be arranged in the open cabinet, for display of three-dimensional projects, when the open sides of the boxes are exposed. The back side of the boxes is finished with 1” thick cork to be used for tack boards, when a two-dimensional display surface is required. Several flat panels will also be provided to display work over the entire opening, which will be the case for the Color Addition and Subtraction Display.

With the large need for electricity in Physics, a continuous wireway has been provided at the perimeter of the classroom to provide electricity and data. Per Mrs. Meyer’s request, the wireway will have a clear cover to allow students to view the wiring system.

Roof and Light
Another aspect of the program was to add natural lighting to the classroom. The existing classroom only has one 4’ wide window. The new walls for the classroom are 12’ tall, which is one foot taller than adjoining roof. Atop these walls sits 360 degrees of clearstory allowing natural light into the room. Interior sun shades will be provided, attached to the tops of existing roof joists, to keep direct sunlight from penetrating into the classroom. The only exception to this will be during the fall and spring equinox, when the multi-ply cotton sun shade can be pulled back to allow the sun into the room. The vertical mullions of the clerestory have been positioned so that the hours of seven until seventeen will cast shadows onto the classroom floor. Students will be able to mark the floor of the classroom with the time of day, twice during the school year.

Some Physics instruction requires that the room be darkened. The entire open area above the existing roof joists can be covered with a multi-ply cotton darkening curtain, the roof joist acting as curtain rods. The darkening curtain can also provide sound dampening when required.

An additional attribute of the roof will be photovoltaics attached to the middle portion of the roof and north slope. The photovoltaics will to collect power to be used by the Induced Magnetic Field diplay. The roof also slopes on the south side, allowing daylight into the classroom while still allowing sun to hit the photovoltaic covered portion of the roof.

The removal of the roof over a portion of the roof joists allows for the structural loading of the joists to be used to support indirect/direct lighting fixtures and horizontal structural frames used in Physics to support heavy loads suspended from them. The structural frames will also have the capability to carry electrical wiring, in conduit, to outlets if needed.

The northwest portion of the classroom is an addition which includes a window, to the north side, that is 6’ wide and 6’ tall, its panes outfitted with interchangeable distortion lenses. There are also two windows, in the form of display cases, which open onto the school’s intersecting corridors. All windows in the classroom allow for a visual connection to the outside and other parts of the school building, but with their oblique views from the main portion of the classroom will be less distracting views.

Physics Aspects in the Classroom

This classroom incorporates many aspects of physics. It is a truly interactive classroom.

In the classroom there will be a Foucault Pendulum hanging from the ceiling in the middle. This pendulum has a motor that drives the motion of the pendulum. The floor will be marked with a grid. As the Earth rotates the orientation of the pendulum will change according to the markings on the ground. This pendulum was the first observational evidence supporting the theory that the Earth spins on an axis. The pendulum will also be used for simple harmonic motion labs and conservation of energy labs. One of the most exciting energy conservation labs involves a kid standing against a wall with a bowling ball held to her nose. The bowling ball is on a pendulum. The student releases the ball and winces when it flies back toward her nose. It will not hit her because of the energy conservation law, but it will scare her!

The classroom will also have a panel painted with red, green, blue, yellow, violet, orange, black, and white. A student artist from the school will paint the wall. The teacher will shine colored light on the wall to demonstrate to the students color addition and subtraction.

A long slinky will be attached to the ceiling. The slinky will have to different spring constants (one side will be stiffer than the other). This can be used for wave experiments. The students will be able to explore how waves pass through each other, superimpose, and bounce off of hard and soft boundaries.

The floors will be stained concrete so that hover crafts and hovering disks can be used on the floor in the classroom.

Each table has an assigned storage unit for lab equipment.
Wireless tablet laptops will be used often in the classroom in conjunction with Vernier Lab Pros. This will allow students to be mobile as they do their experiments. The laptops will be linked together so that any group can share their findings by projecting their data onto the screens in the classroom.

Physics Aspects in the Playground

Outside the physics classroom there will be a playground for physics experiments. Playgrounds are wonderful for involving students and allowing them to explore real life physics applications. There is no playground on the school grounds for the students to use.

Swings will be used for periodic motion and conservation of energy labs.

A seesaw will be used for torque problems. Students will balance each other and explore how a large person and a small person can play on the seesaw together.

Slides will be used to explore acceleration.

A merry-go-round will be used to explore rotational motion.

Students will video themselves on playground equipment and analyze their motion on computers. They will also complete conceptual activities to help them build a conceptual understanding of their motion.

Interactive Physics Hallway

The interactive physics hallway is designed to allow students to be interested in physics and encourage them to take the class. In an age when scientists are increasingly important it is imperative that the United States produces more scientists and engineers. Each display will have directions and explanations on the wall near the display.

The infinite mirror is designed so that students can step inside and see an infinite number of images of themselves. The classes can draw ray diagrams and learn about the reflections that cause the images to form.

The induced magnetic field display shows students who electric fields can induce magnetic fields.

The resonance pipes allow students to explore how different pitches will resonate in pipes of different lengths.

The color shadows wall will have three lights: red, green, blue shining on the wall. The lights mix and it appears as though white light is shining on the wall. When the students put their hands up to form a shadow they block some of the colors allowing them to explore light color addition.

There are also places for rotating exhibits to be displayed in the hallway. These will likely be large student projects.

-Steel with 20% recycled content – used for framing and decking of room, and casework
-8’ wide structural wall panels made from OSB board sandwiching insulation for sound proofing and insulation
-Phenolic resin countertops, partially made from recycled paper
-FSC certified wood products for student cubbies, display boxes and panels
-Reuse of student tables and metal storage cabinets from current classroom
-Recycled clear platic cover for electrical and data wireway
-Low-E glass for all exterior windows
-Exposed concrete floors stained with low VOC materials
-TPO roofing membrane
-The Parkway School District currently has a recycling program for demolition debris, with any demolition materials form this project being diverted into this system


369 North Woods Mill Rd.
Chesterfield, Missouri
United States

Competition Category Entered

Competition Details

  • Name: 2009 Open Architecture Challenge: Classroom
  • Host: Architecture for Humanity
  • Type: Public
  • Registration Deadline: May 4, 2009
  • Submission Deadline: June 1, 2009
  • Entry Fee: $25 USD Developed Nations , $0 USD Developing Nations
  • Award: $50,000 for the winning school for classroom construction and upgrading, and $5,000 stipend for the design team.
  • Contact: Sandhya
  • Status: Winners Announced

The competition entry ID for this project is 4626.

Project Details

NAME: Physics Classroom
LOCATION: 369 North Woods Mill Rd., Chesterfield, Missouri, United States
START DATE: April 27, 2009
CURRENT PHASE: Design development
COST: $140000 USD (Estimated)
SIZE: 1100 sq. ft
PROJECT TYPE: Education Facility - Secondary School
, Architecture for Humanity

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