Seeking inspiration for better school designs, members of the American Institute of Architects’ Committee on Architecture for Education toured three Washington-area schools last week.
Architects at the three-day biennial conference of the committee looked at the three U.S. schools because they offered unique design features that also inspire learning. Participants also discussed school-facility initiatives in other countries. The committee hopes to find ways to persuade government officials to seek better school designs at a time when many districts are replacing old buildings.
In Arlington, Va., just across the Potomac River from Washington, the 2-year-old Langston-Brown high school and community center houses an alternative high school, a senior citizens’ center, and a Head Start program.
The environmentally friendly building boasts two “silos” to catch and reuse rainwater, long-lasting concrete flooring, skylights, a state-of-the-art ventilation system, and waterless urinals.
The nearly 100 participants also saw firsthand a striking new school built on an exceptionally tight budget to serve a small community about 40 miles outside Washington.
Virginia’s Manassas Park school district came into being in the 1970s when Manassas Park seceded from the larger community of Manassas, an outlying Washington suburb. The move left the then-rural community to provide its own school system—an arrangement that left many needy children in shabby schools, said Manassas Park Superintendent Thomas DeBolt.
It took years for the town to pass a bond to build a new Manassas Park High School, which now houses 850 students and was constructed in two stages at a total cost of $20.7 million.
At the core of the facility is a three-story, circular multipurpose room. Other rooms, including the media center, teacher workspaces, and classrooms overlook that area through floor-to-ceiling glass windows. The idea was to create a shopping-mall-type structure that was visually open but still allowed privacy in separate rooms.
The group also visited the recently renovated McKinley Technology High School in Washington.
A version of this article appeared in the February 16, 2005 edition of Education Week