Wayfinding and self-orientation is further aided through the bold color palette used throughout the school. Each floor has a designated color integrated into the tile pattern on the wall, and as students walk up the stairs the color tone on the walls starts to change. If a third grader needs to be on the second floor but keeps walking up the stairs to the third floor, for example, the colored tiles serve as a visual cue to the student who should quickly realize, ‘Oh no, I’m supposed to be on the blue floor,’ and turn around.
“That kind of thing helps to indicate and remind them that they’re in the right place, or ‘I need to go to the art classroom, and I know that’s on the third floor, and that’s the floor that’s mostly green in it’—whatever tools and tricks that they use to remind themselves of where they’ve been,” explained Lori Cowles, principal at HMFH and project manager for the Thompson Elementary project.
Colors also carry from the common spaces into the classrooms. Each classroom features an accent wall, and the paint, floor, and tile colors belong to related color families. The angled orientation of the building on the ground lets plenty of natural light into the large windows in each classroom, combining with the bright color palette to create a stimulating and engaging environment.
Each classroom was also extended to include an area for students to keep their backpacks and other items, instead of storing those items in lockers or cubbies in the hallways. This eliminates the temptation for children to go to the bathroom and then linger in the hallway, according to Sheri Donovan, principal of Thompson Elementary.
“Our corridors are perfectly wide now—they just extended the size of the classrooms, pushed them out a little bit so all the cubbies are inside the classroom. It’s just really made such a difference. There’s no one in the hallways anymore.”
Breakout spaces, nooks, or multipurpose areas are common throughout the building. As children learn at different rates, and teachers move educational opportunities outside of the traditional classroom setting, these spaces outside of the classroom are valuable and heavily used.
For example, kindergarten and first grade students can easily access the large bench area that is centrally located between the groups of classrooms on the ground floor.
“The most unique thing about the school is all of the spaces outside of the classroom for students, teachers, and parents to go to—the benches outside the library, the steps covered in carpet in the center at the end of the hallway,” said Liza Halley, librarian, teaching assistant, and parent at the school.