“Little Things Mean A Lot” was the most popular song of the 1954 Hit Parade. The lyrics focus on the importance of the little things that occur daily in personal relationships rather than on the occasional flamboyant happenings. The same relationship exists between designers and education institutions.
The overall aesthetic design — the big picture — of the site and school building is important in making a visual statement and creating a warm, welcoming atmosphere for students, staff, parents and the community. However, throughout a building's lifetime, the “little things” add up to be the true measure of success.
Taxpayers, administrators, staff and students all have expectations for a new school. Measuring success is difficult, because individuals will have conflicting opinions. Some may think a building is beautiful, while others may view it as extravagant. Some staff may be pleased with a classroom design; others may be unhappy with specific elements.
Education planners, architects, interior designers, landscape architects, engineers, security and technology designers also share expectations of success. Successful design requires attention to details — the little things.
During the programming and preliminary design phases, the design team holds meetings to identify issues such as space needs; functional relationship of spaces; educational philosophy; curriculum, programs and teaching methodology; maintenance and operations philosophies; and budget. These meetings are essential to identify and address the big and little issues that will lead to a successful design.
What are some of the little things that mean a lot during a building's lifetime? Function, aesthetics, detail, comfort, accessibility, adaptability, furniture and fixtures, finishes and systems. Consider adaptability and how school interiors have been modified since the 1960s. Buildings with long-span roof trusses and steel columns are easier to modify than buildings with interior load-bearing walls.
Lack of attention to “little things” can affect the senses, and interfere with teaching and learning processes. Some examples:
Glare on chalkboards, whiteboards or video screens.
Narrow, congested corridors.
Underdesigned ventilation or air-conditioning systems that can create air-quality problems.
Air-quality problems that can result from mold within walls.
Poor acoustics — noisy ventilation systems, adjacent classroom sounds, traffic — that interfere with learning.
As administrators begin planning a new school, they should create a list of important “little things.” Overlooking little details can create big headaches and big problems.
Rydeen, FAIA, is an architect/facility planning specialist and former president of Armstrong, Torseth, Skold & Rydeen, Inc. (ATS&R), Minneapolis. He can be reached at Jrydeen@atsr.com.