Welcome to Design, a Thought Leadership site hosted by Perkins+Will, an international design firm with 220 professionals working in our Midtown office at 1315 Peachtree Street. Each month, a different design discipline thought leader will explore how design has the power to transform lives – in commerce, our culture and our communities.
This month, Allen Post invites you into the world of
K-12 Education. Allen, AIA, LEED AP BD+C is an architect in the K-12 Education Market sector at Perkins+Will and Project Manager for Sprout Space™.
Creating a Culture of Innovation
Posted on March 6, 2012
Capital isn’t so important in business. Experience isn’t so important. You can get both these things. What is important is ideas. If you have ideas, you have the main asset you need, and there isn’t any limit to what you can do with your business and your life. — Harvey Firestone
Engineers at Google are offered “20-percent time.” That means for one day a week they are encouraged to pursue ideas they are passionate about. Google Suggest and AdSense for Contest are just two of the programs that came about from allowing the engineers to work on their own ideas.
Perkins+Will has always been a firm that promotes innovation among its employees and recently took that encouragement to a new level with the Ideas Conference of 2012. As the firm turned 75, leaders asked themselves the question, “So how do we get to 100?”
The management of Perkins+Will firmly believes that the future of the firm believes in creating and maintaining a firm-wide Culture of Innovation in which innovative ideas are cultivated and shared across disciplines, markets, geographies, demographics, roles and responsibilities. They want to define the initiatives and structure to sustain success and develop new avenues of thought leadership.
So they created the Ideas Conference. Every member of the firm, in all 20 offices, were encouraged to submit ideas to enhance our practice beyond its current model and help steer the firm in the future. It’s the first conference of its kind for a large architectural firm. As Thomas Edison said, “To have a great idea, have a lot of them.”
They were looking for ideas in three categories:
• Practice – Ideas that enhance what we do and how we practice
• Technology – Ideas that integrate (existing or new) toolsets into our explorations and technologies into our products
• Experience – Deeply meaningful ideas that lead to exemplary work, improving people’s lives.
You could enter as an individual or as a team. The format of the entries was left deliberately loose for total flexibility. Submissions were due in early February and the announcement of selected ideas was February 17. The people with the winning ideas will go to Los Angeles for the conference March 19-21 where they will be presenting their ideas to thought leaders from across the firm. One idea will be chosen to form the basis for a firm-wide dialogue after the conference.
As the Call for New Ideas noted, “Beyond the impact of these specific ideas, this conference is intended to inspire individuals and offices to share, cultivate and debate ideas that strengthen our organization, and to make innovative practices endemic to the way in which we work.
Here are just a few of the winning ideas that were generated:
• Mentorship Institute: Establish an exchange program to nurture the profession of architecture in the developing world.
• Results Centered Project Management: Rethink the relationship between quality and time as it pertains to our projects
•Comprehensive Adaptive Reuse for Every Project: Implementation of repurposing firmwide
And yes, one of the winning ideas is borrowed from our friends at Google.
• 20 percent time: A program to give employees the opportunity to explore new ideas and areas of influence.
It is because of the culture of encouragement of innovation that our team was given the opportunity to work on a new project that we developed called Sprout Space, one of the most exciting things I’ve ever been a part of. I’ll write more about that in next week’s column.
Continuing the History of Innovations in School Designs
Posted March 12, 2012
Think about the classrooms of your childhood. Most likely every one was a big square, harshly lit by cheap fluorescent lights. And whether you were learning the multiplication tables or studying the solar system, chances are every classroom in your school was virtually identical.
For years, schools were typically designed in the “factory model:” square classrooms housed in classical, symmetrical buildings. But this prevailing tradition wasn’t good enough for Larry Perkins, who founded Perkins+Will with his partner Phillip Will in 1935 in Chicago. Shortly after they formed the firm, they were hired to design an elementary school in Winnetka, IL.
Mr. Perkins began his research with the classroom – in person. He sat in the small desks next to the students, watched them closely and plotted their actions during the day. He learned how schools really worked. As a result, he, along with architects Eliel and Eero Saarinen designed the first modern elementary school of its kind, Crow Island School.
Rather than square-shaped, the classrooms were L-shaped. Every classroom had lots of natural light with a private exit to its own courtyard that could be used as an outdoor classroom. Every classroom contained display units, plenty of storage, a workroom and private lavatory.
Considered controversial at the time, Crow Island represented a revolutionary change in thought: design buildings for people. Its first award came soon after it opened. The American Institute of Architects (AIA) acknowledged it as the school most advanced in elementary school design in the United States. AIA recognized the school again 25 years later with its Twenty-Five Year Award, referring to it as a landmark in design for education.
Crow Island was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1990. In 1991 the American School and University Journal established the “Crow Island Award” on recommendation by the AIA and educational administrators. The award is presented each year to a school whose facilities exemplify “the marriage of the interior environment to the educational program,” as Crow Island School does.
Perkins+Will has continued its dedication to school design. Our firm has been writing and publishing books on school design trends since the 1950s and has won more AIA Design Awards for school projects than any other architectural firm in the country.
In addition to having several friends working as designers in the K-12 Market Sector, I choose to concentrate my career on school design because I have young children and enjoy the connection to my work. I found I could really relate and have an impact on children’s learning environments.
Following Mr. Perkins’s example, architects in our K-12 Market Sector work closely with educators and continue to conduct detailed research on how schools really work. Two trends we’ve seen include a need for flexible student-centered spaces that allow for hands-on, project-based learning as well as a desire for environmentally friendly, energy-efficient buildings.
Another trend you’ve probably noticed is when local schools districts are faced with increasing enrollment or as charter schools expand, instead of enlarging their buildings, they import trailers or modular classrooms. Intended to house students temporarily for two or three years, many of these trailers languish in schoolyards for years beyond their originally intended lifespans. To put it kindly, these older trailers can be dreadfully dull and uninspiring learning environments.
It was with these trends in mind – combined with our desire to create healthier environments for children – that we designed an idea for a new, net-zero energy modular classroom that we call Sprout Space. Our team designed them from the ground up with students and teachers in mind. They are designed specifically to enhance learning with unique features like exterior marker boards to encourage kids to explore outside the classroom and a butterfly roof shape, which allows more daylight into the classroom and also catches rainwater that is then stored in a cistern. We have established a national fabrication and distribution team and our first prototype is already under construction.
Perkins+Will, while designing award-winning and high-performance schools, felt that it was important to address the issue of the 300,000 existing classroom trailers in this country serving eight million students and is committed to creating the next generation of modular classrooms that are healthy, sustainable and flexible. It is especially satisfying to me, knowing we are building upon and adding to the tradition of Perkins+Will of innovation in school design.
Larry Perkins described the design of Crow Island Elementary School as the “rejection of the original, rigid classroom.” Seventy-two years later, Sprout Space is a rejection of the original, rigid trailer.
The design of Crow Island changed how schools were designed and how they functioned. We hope to be able to accomplish the same thing for modular classrooms with Sprout Space.
– Allen Post, AIA, LEED AP BD+C, Perkins+Will
Being Healthy, Flexible, Sustainable Keys to Sprout Space
Posted on March 19, 2012
Last week I introduced Sprout Space, the modular classroom we designed at Perkins+Will that we hope will replace the trailers now used by eight million students in this country. These trailers, which are barely legal to be occupied as buildings, are often brought in by schools as temporary space when the school is experiencing growth beyond the capacity of its classrooms. Or they may be in use while renovation is taking place.
Intended to be temporary classrooms, these trailers generally stay in place from on average five to seven years, even though they are not designed as permanent space. The problems with these trailers are that (he majority are poorly lit with little natural daylight, noisy because of the side-mounted HVAC system and most alarming, can be toxic from the exposure to urea-formaldehyde and other harmful materials such as vinyl. (See Perkins+Will’s precautionary list of building materials.) These trailers are typically not designed specifically for classroom use but as generic temporary spaces and, in my opinion, are not hospitable or healthy learning environments.
Our challenge as we began developing the design for Sprout Space was how to design a modular classroom that is a proper learning environment.
We took ideas from what we do every day in Perkins+Will’s K-12 Education market sector and began the process from the inside out. We focused on the basic needs of a classroom and created a three-dimensional teaching tool, with the needs of students and teachers foremost in our minds.
In addition to creating Sprout Space as a teaching tool, we wanted these classrooms to be healthy, flexible and sustainable. And we wanted to design these buildings specifically to enhance learning.
Our design incorporates ample natural daylight, which has been proven to increase test scores and retention rates with the added benefit of significantly lower utility costs. Sprout Space’s modularity allows it to be flexible and well suited for various teaching styles and seating configurations.
Our research shows that children spend 80-90% of their time in a classroom. We wanted to encourage them outside. Each classroom opens up to the outdoors through large bi-fold doors. The exterior of the buildings have integrated marker boards for outdoor instruction and inspiration. The interior marker boards and tack boards are panelized as well and are interchangeable, giving the teacher more customization.
Other design features include a butterfly-shaped roof that collects the rainwater, integrated rainwater cisterns, a teaching garden, insulated hurricane-rated doors and windows, overhanging eaves, and with the option of photovoltaic cells on the roof, make the building a net-zero energy building One of my favorite aspects about Sprout Space is that in addition to the classrooms being net-zero energy, students have the opportunity to learn from their classroom.
To view a few of the features of Sprout Space, view this short Sprout Space Fly-Through video.
– Allen Post, AIA, LEED AP BD+C, Perkins+Will
Next Steps for Sprout Space
Posted on March 26, 2012
Whenever I tell people about Sprout Space, Perkins+Will’s new concept for modular classrooms, the reaction is overwhelmingly positive. If you are involved in education at all or have ever had a child attend classes in a traditional trailer, then you know first-hand how important this issue is.
As for marketing Sprout Space, we have recently been speaking with representatives from charter schools. They love the concept because they can start a school with a few classroom buildings and then add more as the school grows and space is needed. Also, for Charter Schools that may have multiple locations, our buildings have the ability to be moved which gives the school even more flexibility for their growing facilities.
For example, Chattahoochee Hills Charter School, located in Palmetto, Georgia, was immediately attracted to Sprout Space classrooms because of the unique design and speed to build, relative to a stick-built school, and it meets their high standards for sustainability. “We are creating a special pre-K through 8th grade school that focuses on experiential learning through an environmental lens,” said Steve Nygren, one of the founders of Serenbe and CHCS. “We feel that Sprout Space classrooms are unique in that they are able to complement our academic goals while meeting the tight budget constraints of a charter school.”
We are seeing a paradigm shift in public school facilities toward healthier and more energy efficient buildings as well. As parents and school districts are becoming more aware of the many positive effects that green and healthy schools are having on their children, they are beginning to mandate these high-performance buildings. Perkins+Will developed Sprout Space because we feel that temporary or semi-permanent buildings should not be the exception.
It’s a big step from the initial concept and design to construction of the actual product, but we are well on our way. Our partner for the construction of the classrooms is Triumph Modular, chosen because they are a trailblazer in the industry and committed to the green construction process. The classrooms are being fabricated in North Carolina by Mark Line Industries. All parts and materials for the first Sprout Space classrooms are being shipped to their factory in North Carolina, where a classroom can be constructed in just six to eight days in a controlled environment, so there is very little waste and no issues with mold.
Sprout Space is also unique in that it is the first high-performance and healthy modular classroom that will be distributed nationwide. We have assembled the highest quality team of fabricators from around the country to deliver our classrooms anywhere they are needed in the country.
Of course, everyone wants to know how much it costs to build one. A Sprout Space classroom’s initial cost is roughly double that of a traditional trailer, but we are not comparing apples to apples. Sprout Space classrooms have a longer life span, are up to 100 percent more energy efficient and have a higher residual value. They will maintain their value longer because they are designed and built to a higher, permanent building standard. Also, Sprout Space has been designed to meet LEED™ and CHPS™ certification standards.
A Sprout Space classroom can be installed for around $150 a square foot, which is comparable to what a permanent building costs in the Southeast. In other parts of the country, such as California or the Northeast, where building costs are in the mid $200 a square foot, Sprout Space is much less expensive than traditional construction.
Many more people will be able to experience a Sprout Space classroom for themselves when one is installed on the lawn at the National Building Museum in Washington, DC in late August. The U.S. Green Building Council, Center for Green Schools had the idea of hosting a Green Schools Exhibit to help in the national campaign for building green schools.
Chase Rynd, the Executive Director of the museum, loved the idea and thought Sprout Space would be a great way to highlight green buildings throughout the country by actually putting a building on the lawn where people will be free to wander through it. The classroom will be installed right at the beginning of the school year and be on display for an entire year. If you’re in DC next year, be sure to stop by and see it.
It’s hard to argue with anything that leads to facilitating learning in a healthy environment and Perkins+Will is proud to be a part of the green schools movement. We have to agree with Glenn Cook, Editor-in-Chief of the American School Board Journal, who said, “The green schools movement is the biggest thing to happen to education since the introduction of technology to the classroom.”
What was your favorite part of working on the Sprout Space team?
Posted on April 10, 2012
This week, view a video featuring two key members of the Sprout Space team. Joe and Erika discuss their favorite parts of the project.