THINKING OUTSIDE THE “CLASSROOM BOX” - Designing Crosstown Highschool



When asked what the Classroom of the Future will look like, what do you imagine?  

Most of us think about technology first and the impact it has had and will have on our schools.  Maybe we see every student with a laptop or an iPad – no pencils, no paper, and no text books. Maybe we see virtual teachers or streamed lectures vs. traditional, in-person, teacher-led lectures of today. Maybe we imagine the software becoming the teacher, gauging the student’s progress and determining where she needs more instruction, more review. Maybe we see floor-to-ceiling flat screens and interactive white boards on the walls instead of traditional white boards and bulletin boards.  Honestly, none of that seems too far-fetched and is already happening in many classrooms of today. In fact, the above described picture will soon be the norm, but new technology developments are happening at such a pace that all this will soon be challenged. 

But what else do you see? What about the classroom itself, how is it different? Does the traditional rectangular room with desks or tables and chairs, focused toward the front of the classroom still make sense? Honestly, I don’t think so. 

As architects and designers, we must constantly ask ourselves this question and realize that with the pace and development of all these technological advances, teaching and learning styles are constantly evolving, and therefore we’ve got to design spaces that can change with them.  We need flexible, non-static, adaptable spaces that will support this evolution in education and in technology and provide an environment that will allow teachers and students alike to adapt and grow as learners, innovators, and change makers.  

It is through discussions like these that I hope to take you through our discovery process with the new Crosstown High School where we will engage students, teachers, parents, and community partners and listen to what it is they need around them in order to learn and teach in the most inspiring, effective, and productive ways. I’m pretty confident it’s not going to look anything like our traditional “classroom box” of today. Stay tuned.


Part 2 - The Journey Continues

May 2016

As suspected, the traditional rectangular classroom is not doing our students and teachers any favors and the “Classroom of the Future” is most likely not even a room, but a space uninhibited by solid orthogonal walls and rigid desks and chairs. 

Through discussions and workshops held with a diverse group of high school students, parents, and community leaders from a variety of neighborhoods and schools, we are confirming that our traditional schools aren’t working for the majority and need to change. We are learning from our kids that they want a school that provides them with a home base, a place where they can touch down and be presented with options, so that they have a voice in their education.  They want to choose to head in a direction that excites and interests them. They want a place where they can collect their instructions before setting out on their individualized learning adventures, an adventure that is driven by and supported by experiments, mentorships, research, and discovery in both group and individualized settings. They want to be guided, but they want the option to take their own path at their own pace to reach their destination. In other words, it’s just as much about the journey as it is about the destination. 

So what does this home base look like, and how can we support students and teachers in this learning adventure? This is the question that the charrette process & design workshops will answer. 

Here is what we know:

1.) In order to discover, you need space.

2.) You need to be able to roam and make connections.

3.) You need to be able to stray outside the lines and push the boundaries.


So your space needs to allow for that. It needs to be as fluid, transparent, and unencumbered as it can be with opportunities to go in different directions, cross paths with others, and find inspiration. 


The physical manifestation of this space, although not completely gelled yet, is evolving into a collection of zones connected by a path. These zones are themed through the creative use of materials, furniture, and technology to allow for diversity in student learning styles. The path is not straight and rigid, but meandering and dotted with opportunities to stop and collaborate, ponder, or investigate. Our Classroom of the Future is developing into one that is nothing like our traditional schools with their monotonous, long and straight locker-lined corridors dotted with solid doors opening into regimented classroom boxes. Instead, it’s developing into a diverse and porous environment that offers variety and stimulates exploration. 

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