Even while higher education pushes the boundaries, the organization of elementary education has remained remarkably constant for years. It depicts a teacher in the foreground, books on tables, and rows of students. Ransom Everglades School in Miami, a well-regarded 6-12 school, wants to alter that, and a new STEM Center presented the perfect chance to put innovative pedagogical concepts into action.
Perkins&Will, an architecture company, drew on design inspiration from a variety of industries, including retail, higher education, research institutes, hospitals, and corporate America, to create a new architectural framework for education. “Learning today works in a more multilayered theater,” said Pat Bosch, principal and design director of the firm’s Miami studio. “These structures are reacting to that.” “Everything here is a chance for creativity, knowledge, debate, invention, and everything else you can think of.”
Classrooms, labs, and central collaborative areas are housed in three interconnected volumes at the STEM Center. There are no preset pathways in these zones. Students and teachers may reorganize their surroundings around each session thanks to movable glass walls that divide the three spaces. For more room, furniture may be rolled away, and arms with compressed air and electricity can be extended from the ceiling as needed. There are also power and data points strewn across the floor. According to Bosch, Perkins&Will invented the term “plug and play” to describe this approach, which “creates an open canvas or infrastructure.”
This built-in adaptability has been a huge benefit since the pandemic began. By extending students’ desks into the center collaboration zone, faculty increased the footprint of classrooms and allowed for social distance, while exposed systems and sealed ducting eliminate the need for covered ceilings that attract microorganisms, bacteria, and mildew. Floor-to-ceiling glass windows face north, providing enough sunlight and minimizing the development of dampness or pathogens, while an outdoor classroom allows pupils to learn in the fresh air.
Making the environment into a tool for learning was maybe the most crucial aspect of constructing a modern venue for STEM education. Students can solve problems by writing on the glass walls, or simply slide them aside to make place for science experiments. Students can track the building’s energy and environmental elements, such as solar panels and intelligent glass, on monitors in the corridor, which are color-coded to illustrate how water, air, and electricity travel through the structure.
“This project speaks to the adaptability and flexibility that buildings need to have today,” Bosch said. “Buildings cannot be static. They have to be able to pivot, evolve and accommodate pandemics, security issues, and the evolution of education. We’re seeing a need—not a want—for buildings to be nimble. This building is the poster-child of nimbleness.”