Design for Flexibility: Extended Learning Areas
The one thing we can be certain of is change.
We often define sustainable design using terms like energy efficiency, reduced construction waste, recycled construction and finish materials, daylighting, water efficiency, improved indoor air quality and low embodied energy. These methods of sustainable design are often associated with the term "green design". However, sustainable design does not always mean "green" design; in fact, my recent experience in sustainable design means designing for a building's ability to endure change. The way we interact with buildings is changing at a rapid pace. One goal that is more and more common on our project is to design for change.
Many building types are designed with a 50+ year lifespan. Yet, in a couple short decades we've witnessed a dramatic transformation in the way people work, learn and share information. Information sharing has transitioned away from slow, one-way methods associated with paper and ink and requiring valuable square footage dedicated to its storage. Today we depend on 24/7 accessible virtual networks for communicating, socializing, learning and working. Suddenly, we need a lot less storage space and we want network access from just about everywhere. As long as the way we communicate, learn and work continues to change faster than our built environment we must design our spaces to evolve with the way we use them.
An example of how to design for change is Georgian Heights Elementary School, a project M+A has worked collectively on with Burt Hill, a Stantec company. Characterized as a 21st Century Learning Environment, Georgian Heights incorporates many of the sustainable design attributes listed above - including flexible spaces. Recently featured in "Building Foundations," a quarterly Columbus City Schools construction & design newsletter, Georgian Heights Elementary School was showcased for being sustainable because of its flexible spaces. The school utilizes a media center in lieu of a library, data access throughout the building, a cafeteria and gymnasium joined by an operable wall allowing for large school and community functions and several extended learning areas, or ELA's. ELA's are located on each floor to allow for small and large group student interaction and learn outside the traditional classroom environment. Should the school system grow in the future, some of the ELA's are designed with infrastructure to function as a classroom.
This school is designed to meet both definitions of sustainable design. It is "green" in that the school is registered for LEED for Schools Gold certification and the school is sustainable in that it is designed to endure change.
Go to the "Building Foundations" publication to read more and see renderings of Georgian Heights Elementary School.