Quality U

Aug. 5, 2003
The Look of Tomorrow’s Classrooms Today
“Best Business School of the Year,” “No. 1 Business School in the World”: These are some of the accolades that have been heaped upon the Kellogg School of Management of Northwestern University in Evanston, IL. To continue its reputation of excellence, the business school deans have introduced innovative courses. Northwestern’s facilities management department is matching the school’s innovation by reinterpreting its buildings.The project covers six classrooms and will be completed by the end of the year. In this project’s first facility the department installed new seating from KI, headquartered in Green Bay, WI, so that students can plug in laptops and download files from their professors. This classroom’s seating is fixed on a pedestal that supports the chair and table surface. To complement the educational facility, the lighting system has been overhauled.“In the past, the quality of the light on the worksurface [was] very glare-oriented, uneven, and created darkness around the ceiling area, as well as being an energy hog,” says Andrew McGonigle, project manager, facilities management, at Northwestern. The new luminaires feature a high-quality suspended direct/indirect fixture with a curved reflective painted surface that reflects light downwards.Currently, the new lighting design delivers even, diffused levels of illumination without glare. McGonigle cautions against facility managers selecting low-quality indirect light fixtures using high-gloss white paint that will create glare problems. Instead, the facilities management team at Northwestern chose discreet, yet powerful,  adjustable, dimmable spotlights to highlight the professor or speaker during class time. Every aspect of the project was designed to support the entire educational process and improve the end-users’ comfort. Coopersburg, PA-based Lutron Electronic Co.’s Grafix Eye dimming system with four presets gives the proper illumination level for specific tasks at the touch of finger. Faculty members can tailor the lighting to their needs but cannot override the settings. New, streamlined surge protectors protect equipment, and compact speakers offer clear sounds for students. Two classrooms will feature mechanically controlled black shades.The university has been studying energy costs and lighting issues for 10 years. “We have considered brighter light, more efficient light, dimming. This is really the next generation to look at the quality of light and realize technology is much more advanced and the end-user’s expectation is more,” says McGonigle. Furthermore, the FM team is interested in the latest educational facility acoustical standards and is still experimenting with acoustic improvement solutions.Ivy League InnovationAt Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education in Cambridge, MA, considerable work has been under way on improving interior design. The school’s technical advisory group, known as the Table and Chair group, has devoted much energy to studying what they wanted to do with technology – including collaborating with Cambridge, MA-based Stubbins Associates to do a feasibility study of 27 classrooms in three major buildings to address audiovisual equipment, acoustics, and data.The challenge was accommodating three very different buildings built in three different time periods – 1929, 1965, 1972 – as well as a variety of teaching styles. “You can imagine the infrastructure was waning from what people would like to be doing today,” says Judy Bennett, Stubbins senior associate. The design professionals wanted to go beyond meeting the program requirements to delivering the dreams of their clients.“Their goal was to become a leader in education and technology – that is what drove them,” says Bennett. For the first phase, the design and facilities team chose stackable furniture and focused on connectivity. For the second phase, they chose a fixed position for the instructor and a flexible arrangement for students. The project provides flexibility in the infrastructure, software, and hardware with cable trays and easily configured wiremolds. Accessibility issues for the stepped auditorium were addressed with the addition of a vertical lift, adjustable podium, and a hearing-assistance system. There were also a lot of challenges in terms of getting adequate cooling from the building systems. “Many times, we had to add additional units and deal with the acoustics that come with that,” says Bennett. Stubbins collaborated with an acoustic consultant to create a superior learning environment. The school opted for a “one room feel” design for all classrooms, so professors would feel familiar with all of the controls within the room. “The faculty had to be comfortable that they could press one button and get the environment they want,” says Ron Ostberg, principal and director of design, The Stubbins Associates. The successful implementation of user-friendly technology is a trend in inventive educational buildings.West Coast EnhancementsOther trends include a high degree of flexibility in cable management, lighting, and furniture; a greater focus on ergonomics, especially acoustics; and improvements in energy efficiency. The Stanford Center for Innovations in Learning (SCIL), an independent research organization at Stanford University in Stanford, CA, is devoted to enhancing learning for pre-school to adult learners and embodies these educational trends.The Wallenberg Hall project for the SCIL involved new construction while preserving the original exterior structure. The SCIL staff worked with architects Skidmore Owings Merrill and vendor partners such as Grand Rapids, MI-based Steelcase to create a facility where each room supports the SCIL mission. Including four advanced research classroom and a two-story learning theater, Wallenberg Hall now showcases a number of academic events – all scheduled and monitored by the facility’s software/hardware infrastructure designed by the technology services department.“Using more efficient lighting and HVAC systems [undoubtedly] reduced the per capita energy consumption of the building,” says Robert Emery Smith, director, technology services, SCIL, Stanford, CA. In addition to the challenges of implementing a fully compliant HVAC system in a historical structure, there were acoustical concerns to suppress the sound of the HVAC systems to enable clean audio recordings in the classrooms. “It took a few months of tweaking, simulations, redesign, and reconfiguration, but we achieved that goal,” says Smith.The prevalent use of indirect lighting facilitates video recording in the building as well as end-users’ comfort. Durable carpet in the classrooms withstands the approximately 300 students who use the hall each period.Facilities managers and design professionals of educational facilities are increasingly interested in green design concepts. “Sustainability is part of what we do and we have moved from that term to high-performance buildings and landscapes,” says Ostberg. Among educators there tends to a strong focus on energy efficiency and improved indoor air quality. Operational windows and the use of well-designed daylighting are greatly improving the educational environment. Other trends include upgrading traditional furnishings and choosing seating and lighting that is ergonomically sound and aesthetically pleasing. “People are much more design conscious; the quality of the fixtures and fittings has to match people’s expectations,” says McGonigle. He foresees manufacturers looking to Europe for design integration examples.Although they have diverse facilities, educators and facilities and design members share the common denominator of seeking quality. From good lighting to seating to sound, well-designed classrooms nurture the educational process, encouraging collaboration and contemplation. By taking this human-centered design approach, every aspect of the classroom is crafted to suit the students’ and teachers’ needs. Good work!Regina Raiford Babcock ([email protected]) is senior editor at Buildings magazine.Graduate to Color!By Sheri ThompsonThere are all sorts of opinions about how much is spent on education, what subjects are taught, how students are performing, and the need for new schools. What likely won’t be mentioned are color schemes for schools. The choice of color in schools can enhance learning, morale, and behaviors. School color trends have come and gone. And studies have shown that color affects a student’s attention span and perception of time and can reduce absenteeism and vandalism. What is a school to do? The psycho-physiological effects of color are well known. Generally, red and orange are stimulating; yellow is cheery; and blues and greens are calming. Dark cool colors seem to recede, whereas bright warm colors seem closer. A highly saturated color is stimulating regardless of hue.What colors for what age group?Young children seem to gravitate towards bright and warm colors. One study showed that children between the ages of five and eight rejected neutral. Warm, bright color schemes complement the active nature of children. However, color brightness and intensity may not be conducive to learning. For pre-and elementary schools, soothing colors, such as whites and light creams, work well as the anchor color. Stronger, brighter colors are recommended as focal points. Remember children’s artwork should not compete with color scheme.Teenagers, on the other hand, view primary colors as immature and are often influenced by the prevailing fashion. Young teens typically reject neutral colors in favor of blue, ultramarine and – their current favorite – orange. In selecting a color scheme for middle and high schools there is more leeway. Subtle colors work well with trendy and more saturated hues used as accent colors. In addition, the use of school colors works to promote school spirit. In technical or trade schools where computers are used a lot, eyestrain and glare are common problems. Mid-toned wall and floor colors help reduce the contrast between workstations and surroundings. In an automotive trade classroom, try using metallic faux finishes to replicate colors found in car finishes for accents.College-level facilities must appeal to a broader range of ages. Variety is key. Dark, highly saturated colors can be used to avoid distraction from equipment, such as televisions, monitors, and projectors.Culture plays a role, too, as does region. In the Sunbelt, orange may be over-stimulating. In the north, where winters tend to be drab, taupe or gray in quantity are not good choices; whereas bright accent colors are popular on the West Coast. On the East Coast, traditional and muted toned-down colors, such as hunter green and burgundy or pastels, are preferred. In the Southwest, more saturated colors are favored.What color for what room?Where you specify attention-getting colors and calming colors depends a lot on the function of the space. In classrooms, occupants need to feel stimulated, but not distracted. An effective technique is to paint the teaching wall a deeper or brighter shade than what is used on sidewalls. That attracts attention to the front of the classroom, yet the eyes get a visual break when focus is shifted to the sidewalls.Using color to warm libraries encourages students to read. Walls and book-lined stacks can be energized with the use of colorful wall graphics. Frequently, libraries also contain computers, so remember to select colors that help reduce glare and eyestrain. Auditoriums, gymnasiums, and cafeterias are often poorly lit. In addition, their large size makes color selection a critical issue – bright colors on large expanses can easily overwhelm the space. Lighter warm tones or neutrals are recommended for the main color, with brightly colored accents to invigorate the room.Corridors, stairwells, and lockers are ideal spaces for bright, happy colors to reflect school spirit. Mascots and other colorful wall graphics add interest. Strategic use of appropriate colors can help visually shorten long hallways and enlarge small ones. Color combinations in these spaces can be used effectively to color code sections of the building and can aid in wayfinding.Changing colors is fast and inexpensive Funding for education is always part of the equation. Fortunately, changing paint colors is probably the fastest and least expensive way to improve an educational facility’s environment. In new schools, apply trendy accent colors on a single wall, while painting others in a classic, neutral color. As a result, only one wall will need a new color designation down the road. In older schools, painting should be accomplished during the holidays; or, if low-VOC, low-odor paints are used, while school is in session. School boards and administrators should look at color selection with fresh eyes. Get students involved and you’ll add creativity and imagination to the process. Remember that color, as well as decorative patterns and textures, can be added to the environment through furnishings, window treatments, and floorcoverings. Consider paint’s light reflective value when making a selection since the reflection serves as a secondary light source. A light reflectance value of at least 50 is appropriate for classrooms, but even the lightest paint can’t help a poorly lit classroom. A lighting specialist should be consulted. Color use in educational facilities, where even small changes can produce A+ results, is worth serious consideration.Sheri Thompson is the director of Color Marketing and Design for the Cleveland-based Sherwin-Williams Co. (www.sherwin-williams.com).

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