Using Your Space
By Peter A. Gisolfi
Public school buildings change constantly. As architects, we often encounter facilities that have been expanded and renovated many times. Some of the buildings we evaluate are a jumble of architectural styles, gestures, and competing images trying to function coherently.
The good news is that, because schools change frequently, administrators and school boards have opportunities to reconfigure the building’s layout to the advantage of all who use it. In doing so, they can preserve the best from the past and improve on those aspects that are not working well.
What makes a well-designed school? To answer these questions, we can look at the types of spaces we might find in a typical American public school. They include:
• Administrative spaces
• Common-use spaces, such as gymnasiums, auditoriums, cafeterias, student centers, libraries
• Regular instructional spaces/classrooms
• Service spaces, such as storage, toilets, mechanical rooms
Typical school plans place an entry and lobby at a central position in the building, visible and identifiable to visitors. Next to the lobby are the administrative offices, and frequently the common-use spaces. These spaces may be used after regular school hours for performances or community recreation. Instructional spaces, such as standard classrooms and even special classrooms, are located in wings and are organized by type (science labs, etc.) or grade level (first-grade wing, etc.)
Some commonly used diagrams are an H-shape plan, a radial pattern, a single courtyard, and recurring courtyards. Many others exist, and there is always the opportunity to invent something new.
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