Districts face the task of building and remodeling old schools. Every other facet of American life has changed over the last 20 years, and this task is no exception. Forward-thinking communities are taking a hard look at learning environments and applying the results to school design. Architects are beginning to include these new ideas in buildings they design. One innovative approach is using buildings as instruments of learning. Essentially, this refers to design elements that represent the environment. Windmills, eco-ponds and fire sprinkler controls, for example, become teaching tools, as well as effective architectural elements.
Instruments of learning
Facilities are sprouting up that are testaments to this architectural style. How this is accomplished depends on the school in question. The possibilities are extensive. Planning a school's design takes on a whole different approach when using this architectural style. For example, sustainability is one component of how buildings can be used as teaching tools. The primary focus is environmentally sensitive design, yet it also teaches students about environmental conservation. Characteristics of this style include:
The idea is to provide daylighting (using sunlight as the principal source of internal lighting) for at least two-thirds of the day, minimizing the need for artificial light in the learning spaces. Learning benefits of daylighting are a real bonus. Studies have shown that students benefited significantly by attending schools where sunlight was the primary source of internal lighting.
- Solar systems
These are used as a means to reduce peak electrical demand. The technology can be incorporated into a school's “eco-education” program. This program is designed to incorporate the sustainable school into the curriculum so that students can understand its design and how it affects the environment.
- Site planning and landscape design
This involves evaluating the regional impacts of the school on the environment and protecting and retaining existing landscaping and natural features. As a teaching tool, this educates students about how to incorporate environmentally friendly design solutions, such as sound erosion control, stormwater retention, xeriscape landscaping principles, or using plants and greenery needing little irrigation.
- Water conservation
Rainwater is collected for site irrigation and toilet flushing using separate plumbing to channel this gray water. Wastewater is minimized by waterless urinals, low-flow and water-conserving fixtures, and insulating piping to reduce hot water waste. As a teaching tool, some schools are installing tall, clear glass tubes that serve as rainwater gauges. This allows students to monitor annual rainfall.