March 17, 2004 1 min read

Designing Advice

The American Architectural Forum is offering its expertise on school design to help local school leaders and community members determine their needs, and to help build the best schools to meet them.

The Washington-based nonprofit group is planning to host a series of design forums, called Great Schools by Design, to help educators and architects discuss better design strategies and working relationships with architects.

The AAF, which promotes education about the role of architecture, is concerned that many school buildings are becoming so dilapidated that they jeopardize students’ learning and health.

Its next design forum will be held March 26 in Orlando, Fla., at the annual meeting of the National School Boards Association. Follow-up meetings with teachers and superintendents in different areas of the country will be held this spring and summer. Next, organizers will use those conversations to plan a major national gathering on school design early next year.

“We’ve heard from architects, school board members, superintendents, teachers, mayors, and manufacturers that there is an absence of good communication between the various stakeholders in school design,” Ronald E. Bogle, the president and chief executive officer of the AAF, said in a statement. “Our goal is to create forums for earlier and broader conversations.”

AAF officials say they want to learn more about the roadblocks in the process of building schools, the role architects should play, and thoughts on design trends, such as smaller schools, and how communities use schools.

Mark de Groh, the AAF’s program coordinator, said that school officials often do not have access to the latest information on school design, and only talk to architects about the subject after they’ve signed a contract.

He said an official might be unaware of nontraditional ways that a community could use a school. For instance, a high school’s performing arts center could have an outside entrance so that community residents could use it after hours without ever entering the school building, he added.

And many school officials, Mr. de Groh said, are unaware of the benefits of building “sustainable” schools, which use environmentally friendly and energy-efficient materials. “People don’t take into account how to use different materials to lower energy and operating costs,” he said.

—Joetta L. Sack