Community-Based Design in Educational Facilities

By Wesley Wong Assoc. AIA posted 04-09-2014 20:18

The initial process of designing for educational facilities usually encompasses the following thought sequence:

1 Assess the existing situation and define what action needs to be taken

2 Determine what needs to be taught and the support activities that will occur as a part of the curriculum

3 Determine number of students and faculty to be housed and grade-level organization

4 Determine community needs

5 Review all needs in light of district goals and policies and make any appropriate adjustments

In building a vibrant and help educational facility, community engagement is a critical element of cultivating a successful built environment. A positive space promotes cohesiveness and facilitates social interactions. There are a few options for incorporating community input such as a design workshop that includes all the users of the proposed space. This option is a collaborative process that fosters an open working environment so that everyone participates and they are encouraged to offer diverse opinions and an attitude of discovery. From the beginning, design workshops are integral forums that can take on comprehensive and holistic approaches to community-based design and planning. With a commitment to creating special spaces that meet today’s needs, honest and effective meetings are critical. Relevant entities such as the Planning Commission, Neighborhood Councils, Focus Groups, and Stakeholder Groups, help shape the results of a plan or project in way that improve its utility and how it affects the community. In addition, new technology-influenced approaches to hearing community voices include Photo-voice and Instagram with tags. These activities empower users to express their view and opinions through photos. Once the designer immerses himself/herself into the narrative of the environment, the perspectives can then be taken into consideration and integrated into the overall design.

Whether it is to plan a new campus, design a new building or modernize an existing building, one must be passionate about creating buildings and spaces that inspire and enrich the learning experience.


Case Study: Jean Parker Elementary School, Kwan Henmi Architecture

The community design process with Chinatown was in depth and fostered long-lasting relationships. In speaking with multiple user groups, the design firm incorporated historic architectural elements such as archways and columns from the original school building that was damaged from the earthquake. The building scale and massing was designed to fit within the scale of the community.  

Jean Parker Elementary School replaces an unreinforced masonry structure severely damaged in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake.  Designed to maximize the usable playground area on the restricted 0.6 acre Chinatown site, the school is centered on a fenced-in, south-facing courtyard, providing protection from the winds and the busy Broadway Street traffic. 

This school is organized into three parts to reduce the mass of the building and its relationship to the surrounding densely populated neighborhood.  The main entry is adjacent to the administrative areas for visual control, and incorporates a terra cotta entry portal salvaged from the original demolished school. The north facing classrooms are organized efficiently in a three-story block with bay windows, consistent with Bay Area tradition. 

A 5,000 SF multi-purpose room contains a full stage auditorium and music room, as well as a community kitchen.  The auditorium has a separate public entrance for evening events.  Additional playground space is provided by two rooftop play terraces. The design of Jean Parker Elementary School has been recognized by the American Institute of Architects with several design awards.