Concept, Renderings and Images: Richard Fleischman, Carlos Ruiz, and Travis Clarke
RF+PA responded to a design competition which encouraged re-thinking the way in which we educate our youth. School design hasn’t been altered much over the years and therefore reflects the thinking and solutions of a different era. Most of our public high schools were built in an industrial economy when we were preparing our workforce for different types of professions. The workforce today is divergent from the past and the design must be agile and flexible to accommodate the skills of today while also being dynamic for our rapidly changing future. We are approaching education differently through an architectural design solution which will creatively further the functionality of our schools and better support future generations. Our firm is inspired as we enjoy a challenge and we feel that our approach will truly transform education, the way in which the youth think and thus positively affect our future.
When we began planning, we first defined our goals and what the design needed to accomplish so that we could be innovative and use that as a benchmark of success. We wanted to create a solution which allowed for growth and supported learning in any capacity. The school must foster the mind, the body, as well as… the creative spirit. It must link to the community in which it resides and enhance it through spaces for public use. Therefore the space must be inviting and one in which you could remain and enjoy for long periods of time. So it was very important to bring fresh air into the spaces and incorporate natural light as much as possible.
There is a great opportunity to learn from the architecture as well on the site by putting education on display. So we wanted to further enhance the connection to the outside world, as well as let the students understand the various systems and sustainability of the building. This idea can be accomplished through having the building act as a classroom in and of itself. Graphics and lessons could be incorporated throughout and teachers could have the knowledge to use the facility as several lesson plans. Our solution also utilizes the landscape design as a teaching tool and supports a mindset of learning to learn.
The site which we selected is strategically located between the existing colleges and universities in Cleveland, Ohio. Our intent is for the proximity of the Higher Educational institutions to be a resource for the students as well as the community at large. Our site, roughly 635,000 SF, sits south of an existing elementary school. The remainder of the site is surrounded by businesses which could also be utilized as teaching opportunities for students. On the other end is University Circle, the center for culture in Cleveland with over 17 institutions. This premier urban district, and world class center of education, medical, and arts & cultural institutions, is located just four miles from downtown Cleveland along the historic and future facing Euclid Corridor. So our site also links the thriving center of the city, downtown, to the cultural mecca.
The targeted site offers public transportation for our students along two major corridors linking downtown with “Uptown” and is an area which is currently being developed. This development is called the Opportunity Corridor and will be a three-mile boulevard of revitalization, breathing new life into Cleveland neighborhoods and improving access to the jobs, education and culture located within University Circle. It will serve as a catalyst for reinvestment into nearby communities with the well-planned redevelopment of more than 300 acres of underutilized land into vital, neighborhood assets. The project will also improve connections between I-490 and University Circle, where an estimated 80,000 Greater Clevelanders work and more than $14 billion in direct and indirect economic impact is generated annually. Our site is in the Center of this renewal in between downtown and University Circle, also known as Uptown. Adjacent to the site is an active Amtrak passenger rail which could also be utilized for student transportation making the site very accessible for all modes of transport.
In an effort to best support the students of today as well as tomorrow, the classes and services would be centered around the needs and interests of the student body. Each student’s development is dependent upon the quality of education and teaching, as well as the space in which they learn. Therefore we looked at how one learns and grows within a space and how the learning environment must support this growth and education. The lessons and classes would reflect the student’s needs, characteristics and preferences. The instructor would manage the resources, technology, tools, spaces as well as the students. Through evaluation and understanding the form and function of learning environments, we could further connections resulting in learning which would have no limits.
Most of our existing schools are constructed based on a square or rectangular shape. We looked at creating a non-rectilinear form and through defining the new school in a circle, it creates more synergy and fosters collaboration. This form would also create intersections through having multiple interactions and areas of study take place in one area without walls. By removing the boundaries and changing the way we define space, everyone within the super school will be impacted. The ability to share thoughts and ideas is heightened allowing individuals to also learn from each other. The open layout would cultivate the creative process and truly support open thinking and by extension increase the quality and level of learning.
In order to evaluate our ideas, we began the design process by sketching the site and thinking about the organization of space. We took into consideration how a campus might differ from a centralized hub and looked at other more innovative concepts as well. Since design is never about one idea but is always evolving, we pushed the envelope and decided the centralized intersection would be the most innovative while also best supporting the project goals.
We propose that the exterior of the super school would be a dome navigating away from the more rigid rectangular school buildings. Not only is this a unique exterior for a school, and it also allows for an open interior layout. The interior would be innovative and different in order to contribute to the idea that learning is limitless. Navigation between spaces would be accessed through a ramp system further supporting collaboration and openness. The heart of the school would be centrally located and adorned by a large globe which would also function as a technological instrument. It would remind students and teachers to think globally and not limit their ideas or growth. The done will contain an oculus which will flood the space with natural light and connect the indoors to the outdoors. The large entryways will utilize glass to add additional natural light and encourage transparency, excitement and intrigue both in and outside of the facility. To expand upon the connection to nature, trees, water and natural elements will be integrated into the design as well. Programming and classes could also be held indoors or outdoors and the design would accommodate both. This flexibility will enhance learning and further education through creating passionate, culturally sensitive students and graduates better equipped to succeed in the global workforce.