How Safety and Collaboration are Influencing Modern School Design

School safety is a top-of-mind issue. For modern school designers, delivering a safe and still collaborative space is priority. So what’s the secret to creating this important balance?

Modern School Design Exterior Look at Entryway

Securing the Modern School

Security features, such as an x-ray machine, may create bottlenecks in the school environment if they are not strategically situated. Best practice is for these features to be located in areas where they have minimal impact on foot traffic. This also has the benefit of challenging anyone who wants to cause harm, because it’s more difficult to game a security system that feels hidden. If the system feels too intrusive, and teachers and students find it gets in the way of daily routine, it’s all too easy to cut corners with implementation.

“The topic of balancing safety and creating collaborative and welcoming spaces is a challenge in every school design process. We strive to design learning environments that are welcoming and inspiring, but also add safety features,” explains Adele Willson, a principal with Hord Coplan Macht in Denver, CO.

One challenge with school design is that safety features can often make the school feel like it’s on lockdown. For designers, keeping the space open and airy while protecting safety is tricky. Willson recommends using interior windows in classrooms, libraries, and other spaces. Interior windows “[create] a connection to learning which can inspire students,” notes Willson.

After an incident in the schools, the impulse to hunker down is natural; however, this can have a detrimental effect on pupils. Turning schools into fortresses by, for instance, eliminating windows, is an impulse that should be avoided. Instead, though it may seem counterintuitive, schools should be designed for the feelings they want to evoke. Community and collaboration require openness and flow rather than separation and confinement.

By integrating natural materials into classrooms and providing open windows where students can look out into nature, school designers can evoke feelings of serenity while modeling civic values. Texture can play a beneficial role as well by soothing the nervous system. Schools of the past often felt institutional due to a use of cold materials, such as metal or plastic. Soft, warm natural materials are not only more comfortable, they promote feelings of happiness which can enhance collaboration while preserving public safety.

Modern School Design Collaborative Space

Protecting Collaborative Space

Education is increasingly collaborative but creating open spaces where children can come together is a risk in the age of school shootings. Break out areas work best when they can be monitored from halls and classrooms for greater transparency. To enhance safety, combine open design with safe areas where students can shelter during lock downs.

While open areas feel risky (there’s nowhere to hide), Willson explains they do have benefits: “[Open areas] allow for more staff and students to have ‘eyes’ on the activities and the ability to see unusual behavior or people very quickly.”
Open areas, such as the ‘learning stair’ at Thunder Vista Pk-8, provide a place for students to congregation groups where faculty can observe behavior and step in to address any issues.

Willson recommends making exits clear, so students and teachers know where to go in an emergency. Schools must also provide clear instructions on emergency situations.

Modern school designers can balance the need for safety with design principles to create an environment that fosters learning and collaboration for the benefit of all.

Thunder Vista P-8

AP Completes New PK-8 School That Balances Safety and Collaboration 

Thunder Vista features an open entryway, where a security feature requires that visitors check in and request entry via buzzer. Designed to be both inviting and safe, the entryway includes large glass windows and doors that are also bullet-proof. Another safety feature includes a drop-box parents and others can use for items a student may forget, such as a backpack, without needing to enter the building. The interior is designed to promote both collaboration and visibility for oversight and transparency.

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