Architects Return to Classroom

February 6, 2015

Here at BCWH, we are lucky enough to design spaces that create collaborative experiences among many different groups of people. We look at the engagement of communities, students and teachers, congregations, and even governing bodies. We study not only how these groups engage with each other, but also how they engage with the space surrounding them and how the space engages them. This part of our collaborative process, where we connect with the user to better understand how the space shapes their experience, is called programming.

Manchester Middle School houses 1450 students in grades six through eight. Built as a high school in 1963, the building has seen only maintenance treatments and energy conservation efforts since its last major expansion in 1982, followed by conversion to middle school use in the early 1990’s. BCWH saw an opportunity at MMS to regain its position as a center of civic activity and community pride and to spur even greater improvements in the neighboring communities.

A unique experience that comes with working in K12 facilities is the opportunity to immerse ourselves into our school projects through the eyes of a student. Back in December, the Manchester project team shadowed five students from Manchester Middle School in Chesterfield County. Instead of worrying about the number of Revit licenses needed or how to get a dozen sketches out the door, these BCWHers woke up worrying about what to wear, what to pack for lunch and what classroom they had to be at first.

Allie and Allison were two of our architects assigned to shadow a 7th and 8th grader, respectively last month. They spent the day following the same schedule as their students observing their classrooms, the corridors, the technology, the furniture, the windows and the layout of classrooms. They attended lunch in the cafeteria and witnessed the use, or sometimes lack of use, of lockers. A quick observation made by all was that the students at Manchester have very regimented schedules, but each one of them had adapted to their surroundings and set up a system that works for them.

Excited to see every student using a Chromebook in the classroom, Allie spent her morning in history and language classes envisioning how the spaces themselves could be brought into the twenty-first century. During lunch she prompted students on what could be done to improve their school. Her favorite ideas included adding more windows everywhere and building an arcade for well-behaved students. By the end of the day, she became more focused on the students themselves and all of the wonderful interactions her student had with friends and teachers. It made her realize how important it was to experience and reflect upon the relationships that form during middle school.

Allison went into the day thinking she’d be observing classrooms and looking keenly at the architectural items that would need updating and changing, but leaving school that day she found herself reflecting more on what it was like being a middle schooler. “Going back to middle school for the day brought back so many memories of my own experience as a middle schooler. You forget what was important to you at that age. School was your life. It seems so regimented now, but at that stage in your life, changing classes and having your own locker was freedom.”