When the three-story 45,000-sf Constance and Miguel Fernandez STEM Center for Science and Math opened last September at the entrance of the historic Ransom Everglades School campus in Coconut Grove, Fla., it created a new quad with an outdoor theater and classrooms, art exhibition space, and an outdoor student green. But one thing the new building didn’t have was private offices.
Its designer, Perkins & Will, has seen shared meeting spaces replacing private faculty offices in several of its recent education projects. “This isn’t a trend; it’s here to stay,” says Pat Bosch, Principal and Design Director in P&W’s Miami studio. “We’re seeing it in public schools, too, around the country.
OLD DESIGN IDEAS MADE NEW BY CIRCUMSTANCES
Since the advent of STEM- and STEAM-focused curricula several years ago, schools have been taking their cues from the office and research sectors in terms of rethinking their spaces for collaboration, “with more collision points,” says Bosch.
P&W has a long history of advocating for outdoor learning spaces, and its clients of late are listening to pitches whose angles are about safety and wellness. The shift away from private faculty offices, however, still leaves room for one-on-one learning and communication. P&W’s kit-of-parts approach can include quieter rooms that Bosch believes are less intimidating to students than a teacher’s or principal’s office. “This actually enhances the bespoke educational environment,” says Bosch.
UTILIZING ‘IN-BETWEEN’ SPACES
The STEM center at Ransom Everglades School is the result of a design pivot during the COVID-19 pandemic. Essentially a big glass box, Its classrooms and labs are supported by more informal tech-enhanced “in-between” spaces where students and faculty can interact. An aquatics lab functions as a water feature at the front of the building, framed by the exterior student commons and an incubator that was designed to be the center for faculty, administrators, students, and visitors to exchange ideas.
Build by Shawmut Design & Construction, the STEM Center features 10 flexible classrooms with movable walls and furniture, as well as laboratories for earth sciences, biology, chemistry, and physics that integrate with fabrication and maker labs. Utilizing smart-building design throughout, the facility has wide staircases, tech-enabled educational spaces, an outdoor rooftop lab, multi-purpose conference room, and a reconfigurable 200-person auditorium.
Bosch adds that the design also ushered in better circulation for the entire school. “The pandemic propelled this, and now we have a proof of theory.”
Another P&W project that dispensed with private faculty offices is the K-5 St. Stephens Episcopal Day School, also in Coconut Grove, which last October completed a 23,000-sf Arts and Innovation Center and a 3,700-sf Ministry Building, located at its entrance. This $9.4 million pavilion, constructed by Skanska, is an example of STEAM education in early childhood development that showcases principles of design flexibility and adaptability, team-based learning, and project-based outcomes.
The design provides an array of informal learning spaces.