Spotlight on Educational Projects
Many school boards or education departments have strict requirements for the design of schools. In Newfoundland and Labrador the Department of Education publishes a working document called the School Planning Manual. This document has some solid values including the construction of durable, long lasting, easily maintained and sustainable buildings. While the School Planning Manual has rigid and prescriptive requirements, the people behind the book are open minded and interested in improving the manual.
Some designers may scoff at a book like this, but we love it! Most clients who have built as many buildings as say the school board or provincial government will develop opinions and preferences on construction materials, systems and techniques. Rather than spending lots of time figuring out what these preferences are, the School Planning Manual spells them out for us so we can spend our time on the design.
Where is there room to move?
The school planning manual takes care of the bricks and mortar so to speak. That is, basic building materials, room sizes and rough layouts for some of the typical rooms. We spend our time focusing on:
- Organizing the building elements: Does the gym work better next to the lunch room or in the middle of all the classrooms?
- The building location and orientation: Should the building be on the high or low point of the site? Should the classrooms be facing North instead of South to reduce glare?
- How does it all look: While the materials are suggested, in our experience if the materials achieve the same durability and are cost neutral, there is room for deviation from the School Planning Manual. The colour of materials and the way they are composed on the building can make it look friendly and welcoming instead of ominous and cold.
Where are we stuck?
The school has a net-to-gross ratio which gives the percentage of the building that is programmed space, like classrooms, gym, offices, to unprogrammed space, like corridors or mechanical space. The net-to-gross ratio has implications to the way the building works and there are some things that just aren’t possible like a courtyard or a corridor with classrooms on only one side. These are elements that are often incorporated into projects for private clients, would it be worth it for public projects too like schools?