Activating innovation: Trends in K-12 education

School structures offer a unique opportunity as they can often double as community centers and serve as shelters in the event of an emergency or natural disaster.

September 20, 2017 |
Perkins+Will’s Ideas + Buildings
Kids walking outside of a school

More than ever, today’s schools must address complex global issues while anticipating future changes in education and technol­ogy. To help us meet this challenge, we look beyond the world of K-12 education to inform and enrich our understanding of what a future-ready schools looks like.

Our team benefits from a research-based project ex­perience and the knowledge of multiple areas of practice, bringing informed, thought­ful, and multidisciplinary approaches to each project. All schools benefit from the forward-thinking design solutions that are the result of this approach. Some of our recent K-12 education projects demonstrate components that support future-ready school facilities (and students!).



School structures offer a unique opportunity as they can often double as community centers and serve as shelters in the event of an emergency or natural disaster. Though planning for natural disasters is top of mind, resilience also means future-proofing structures so that each community can flourish and reopen to students as quickly as possible. By understanding an institution’s vulnerabilities we can provide schools and districts the information needed to make better-informed decisions.


Ridgeview Middle + High School

Located on a mountain top in southwestern Virginia, Ridgeview Middle School and High Schoolsits on a 106-acre site and serves 1,400 students.  Due to the mountainous terrain and climate, heavy snow and flooding are the primary concerns for the school as they often lead to power outages that can last several days. Lack of power results in the loss of basic life essentials including, heat, hot water, and proper food storage.  Ridgeview was thus planned to serve as an emergency shelter for the community. The kitchen and the gymnasium feature emergency backup power that can provide food and shelter.




In the past, formal learning encompassed the entire education experience. Today, technology enables learning to extend from more traditional formal learning spaces into informal environments throughout the school. From adaptable furniture solutions to utilizing corridors for teaching and incorporating smart technology, flexibility supports diverse learning styles and is key to meeting the needs of today and tomorrow.


Fellowship Christian School

The Upper School we envisioned for Fellowship Christian School is three levels and designed to accommodate 450 students and associated administration, faculty, and support staff. Each floor of the classroom wing includes a large flexible space that provides for either a STEM, project, or media lab, fostering innovation at all levels. Multiple break and study rooms are spaced throughout the building that can be used for a variety of individual or group functions.

High school kids in a school maker space



Pioneering school designs focus on how students learn best by providing students the skills they will need to survive in our ever-changing economy. They also offer choice – from small and quiet heads-down nooks to large project labs that fuel collaboration. Wisely, some schools are taking a systems thinking approach to this view of student centered education, recognizing that in order to make progress they must look at all of the elements put in place to cause learning to occur including, pedagogy, community, physical environment and technology.


Dena’Ina Elementary School

Dena’Ina Elementary School offers features kid-friendly elements that offer exploration of scale, natural light, color, and transparency. The school is organized into three general zones: an academic zone with southern exposure, a shared program zone bordering the northern edge, and a multi-use social gathering zone in between. A simple primary color palette carries through from the playground equipment to the windows, carpet, furniture, collaborative learning nooks, and artwork. The colored glass and clerestory windows add brightness and fun for students, even during the dark winter days.  The school was also designed with student health in mind and features student-centered adaptable, comfortable, and inclusive spaces.


Fostering creativity begins by realizing that most creativity emerges through a collaborative process. Collaborative environments are supported by creating visual and physical connections between spaces. This transparency allows students to innovate as they navigate intuitively based on personal career pathways and immediate project goals.


Eddy & Debbie Peach Elementary School

Eddy & Debbie Peach Elementary School is located on a 9.7-acre and serves 900 students. The educational program includes grade level break out collaboration spaces sprinkled throughout each grade cluster and feature natural light and views of the landscape. Highlighted along the core of the facility are an outdoor art and science learning lab, a double volume media center, and an outdoor learning environment that serves as an extension of the media center, as well as outdoor break out spaces for core classrooms.  The 3,000 square foot media center centered at the heart of the school reinforces creative collaboration.


Children in a library in a K-12 school

As we head into a new school year, we continue to look both inside and outside the realm of K-12 education to help us create spaces that equip students with the skills needed to thrive in an ever-changing world.

Perkins+Will’s Ideas + Buildings | Perkins+Will

Perkins+Will is a firm of remarkable people who are driven by discovery – through their relationships, research, and design. In the simplest sense, our ideas are the precursors for all of our design work. Ideas + Buildings, Perkins+Will’s blog, features emerging thought leadership from across the firm, inviting an even greater global dialog around learning, wellness, workplace, sustainability, and everything in between. Visit the blog at:

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