Today, schools are more than desks in a classroom. Instead, they have become collaborative learning communities that support not only the children but also their families. That transformation includes creatively designed spaces that inspire and motivate the students and teachers alike.
When designing elementary schools, Alexandra Barker, principal of Brooklyn, New York-based BAAO Studio, approaches the design from two scales—the scale of the child and the adult instructor. “We work to build spaces that are able to be enjoyed by children while allowing for adults to supervise when necessary,” she says. The architecture firm counts a handful of schools in its portfolio, including its latest, the City Kids educational center in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighborhood. The central double height space is perfect for gathering and creates a visual connection between levels of the school, which features six preschool classrooms and five afterschool rooms. Windows of varying sizes serve double duty, both to bring in borrowed light and to provide visual access for children and teachers.
At Tianyou Experimental Primary School in Suzhou, China, crafted by Shanghai- and Melbourne-based BAU, a range of colorful spaces encourage children to play and learn together by blurring the lines between formal teaching and informal learning. This is reinforced by wider corridors used for break-out classrooms and bifolding walls that allow for group instruction. Working alongside Chinese classical garden scholar, Craig Easton, a vast amount of outdoor space adds to the collaborative environment and promotes wellbeing. “Each and every rooftop is utilized as a useful space for students,” says firm founder James Brearly.
I Promise Village by Graduate Hotels is at the forefront of this movement. Located a few blocks away from the LeBron James Family Foundation’s I Promise School in Akron, Ohio, the Village provides free transitional housing for students and their families who need a safe and comfortable place to stay. “Students can continue to go to school without disruption, and their parents are able to focus on regaining their footing and housing independence without the stress of unknown living situations,” says Ruben Navarro, chief strategy officer at AJ Capital Partners.
The redo of a former historic apartment building, the design channels Graduate Hotels’ playful ethos with welcoming seating vignettes and cozy common areas. To tie it further to its mission, more than 100 art pieces from students are found throughout the residential units. “The Village is a reminder of the importance of designing with the end user in mind,” says Navarro. “[Our team] reflected their needs [while] maintaining a vibrancy and uplifting energy through the materials selected.”
This article originally appeared in HD’s December 2021 issue.