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Pre K to K-12

Cost Efficient Design Principles When Designing a School

Cost Efficient Design Principles When Designing a SchoolOur speakers from inaugural Building Future Learning Spaces conference shared with us tips on cost effective design principles which can help you perfection your building school / learning space project.

Read useful tips from experts like Alastair Blyth, Consultant at Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and Prakash Nair, REFP, President at Fielding Nair International

Cost Efficient Design Principles When Designing a School
by Alastair Blyth, Consultant at Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development

There is a myth that good design is expensive. That is, that there is a natural relationship between design and cost inefficiency. There is also myth that implies that buildings that are cost efficient cannot be inspiring.

However, good design does not have to be expensive, but it does have to be thoughtful. One interpretation of good design is that it is the meaningful and efficient allocation of resources.

I think four key design principles are: understanding value, responding to change, usability and efficient design. There are two areas of cost efficiency to consider and the previously mentioned four ideas relate to both. Education facilities have to be cost efficient to construct (i.e. in terms of capital expenditure), and cost efficient to use (i.e. in terms of current expenditure) including both maintenance and operational cost including energy use, which is one of the most expensive components of operational expenditure.

Cost-efficiency is easy to measure but hard to assess because there must be a relationship between cost which is measurable and value which is not always easy to empirically measure.

So one question is what value does the physical learning environment add beyond being just a weather-tight box that contains human activity? To a great extent this is one of the questions that the OECD Learning Environment Evaluation Programme is attempting to answer through its study into the physical learning environment.

Creating an environment that is responsive to change. Given that buildings must support the needs of users and respond to user needs, as the context of the users (teachers or students) change whether this is imposed by policy change, technology or developments in pedagogy, so the building should be able to accommodate this. It can do this through its flexibility so that users can move things about easily and quickly without difficulty to create a day-to-day environment that suits them. It can also do this through its adaptability, in other words being able to accept structural changes so that for example more accommodation can be provided.

An efficient environment is one that is easy to use and manageable for people. Very often buildings that are inefficient in terms of energy use, are those that have technological systems or features that people find difficult to use, or that are designed in such a way that people do not intuitively understand how to operate them. Such systems invariably also cost a lot to maintain. Merely designing a building that meets a very high rating on an environmental rating system is not enough, users must be able to operate it otherwise say the real energy performance way lower that the notional designed energy rating. Giving users control over their environment is important whether it is heating, cooling, lighting or sun-blinds. Whether they feel that they do not have control, leads to frustration and the building being seen as a constraint rather than an enabler. The aim is to reduce the number of obstacles to using the building.

It can be tempting to have too much design, too many parts in the system that just add to the complexity and the cost of construction as well as cost of operation, and more options for failure. A simple, well thought through building can be far more elegant and inspiring than one that includes too much of the latest, but poorly understood technology that can end up on show as if to demonstrate some sort of design prowess.

Cost Efficient Design Principles When Designing a School
by Prakash Nair, REFP, President at Fielding Nair International

Innovative strategies, taken together will actually yield a more cost-effective school than one designed according to the traditional constraints. Needless to say, it will also be a far more inspiring place for both teachers and students. In thinking of the general principles that need to be front and centre while designing 21st century schools, the following are most important to consider:

1. Be welcoming (safe, nurturing, encouraging good citizenship): How students behave in school has a lot to do with the hidden messages that the building sends. The designer has great influence in setting up the environment so that it feels welcoming.

2. Be versatile (agile and personalized): A school building has to be agile which is more complicated than just creating flexible spaces. Personalization refers to providing environments that meet the different needs and learning styles of different students.

3. Support varying and specific learning activities (multiple learning settings): Some areas of the school should be designed to promote a variety of learning activities — for example the learning commons.  Other areas should be designed to support specific activities — for example the black box theater.

4. Send positive messages (about identity and behavior): The importance of creating a positive school climate cannot be overemphasized. A school facility’s design will have a big impact on efforts to create a positive climate.*

* Excerpted from Blueprint for Learning, Redesigning Schools for Student Centered Learning published by Harvard Education Press, Oct. 2014


Ed Investment

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