A Natural Evolution for K12 Collaborative Spaces

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A NATURAL EVOLUTION FOR K12 COLLABORATIVE SPACES


ARE OUTDOOR LEARNING ENVIRONMENTS

THE NEXT COLLABORATIVE COMMONS SPA The education landscape is changing—quickly, dramatically, and quite possibly forever. Enrollment, funding sources, physical infrastructure, and classroom design are all in flux, making it difficult to plan for the

In response to global and local dynamics, educators are reimagining traditional and modern learning environments to be more conducive to evolving programs, user needs, and instructional delivery methods. The use of collaborative commons spaces in education facilities is not a new concept; however, these collaborative spaces traditionally mostly existed within the built environment (inside).

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short- and long-term.


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S

ACES?

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Where it Started

WILLOW SPRING HIGH SCHOOL FUQUAY-VARINA, NC

Historically, access to the outdoors has been strictly regimented to periods of time in the school day dedicated to physical activity. Traditional school spaces found outside were playgrounds, lawn area and a few possible paved play areas with tetherball, hopscotch, 4-square, etc... Recess was the reward of the day - the opportunity to go outside, enjoy sunlight, touch grass, run, socialize, raise voices - all the freedoms enjoyed in youth and a welcome release from the regimented school day.

While outdoor learning spaces have always been beneficial—unfortunately, they are often eliminated from project plans due to limited resources. More recently, a prioritization for outdoor learning environments has been accelerated by the pandemic and is predicted to remain highly desired post.

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FUQUAY-VARINA HIGH SCHOOL FUQUAY-VARINA, NC

From Underused to Prioritized


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Despite Positive Impact on Students and Staff Trends in recreation tell us that children have an innate desire to connect with nature and receive multiple physical and mental benefits when challenged through discovery play. The ability to choose how they want to respond to their environment can powerfully impact young people, promoting more active engagement into later years. We also understand the benefits of providing the same connections to the natural environment in educational settings.

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BENEFITS OF OUTDOOR LEARNING ENVIRONMENTS Outdoor learning environments provide numerous advantages that can increase physical health, performance and productivity for students and staff alike.

MULBERRY FIELDS PARK ZIONSVILLE, IN

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The design of outdoor spaces extends the footprint of the learning environment while supporting multiple learning modalities for a lower cost than indoor classrooms.

Outdoor learning spaces can provide the flexibility and social distancing needed for the education system during a pandemic and for future events.

These spaces promote awareness of the environment, in addition to providing mental stimulation.

Their location in nature provides for the natural elements that are often attempted to be mimicked inside a building, at a premium cost (natural ventilation, access to daylight).

Being outdoors facilitates opportunities for more hands-on curriculum that can accommodate multiple learning modalities.

Outdoor learning could provide equitable, high quality learning experiences for all students, to help overcome inequalities that might exist within the school system.


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A NATURAL EVOLUTION FOR K12 COLL ABORATIVE SPACES

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DESIGN PRINCIPLES TO CONSIDER There are several factors that need to be considered when identifying and designing outdoor spaces to serve as learning environments.

Climate The climate of each system’s region will profoundly impact the duration of practical outdoor learning and what kind of infrastructure is needed for human comfort. The design decisions should reflect the microclimate of each school site and each space identified on that site relative to how to best plan for solar exposure, wind, rain, snow, and heat. This could include utilizing existing site features such as seating for student capacity or existing trees for shade.

Noise Determining the potential for distractions and providing strategic solutions to overcome them is needed for efficient outdoor learning. Both the acoustic quality of the space and undesirable views or smells should be identified as opportunities to provide buffering elements such as fencing, walls, plantings, white noise systems, or other features to improve the space’s quality and reduce distractions interruptions. ST. TIMOTHY’S MULTIPURPOSE FIELD RALEIGH, NC

Accessibility These spaces also need to be universally accessible and designed to meet the needs of all people. Universal Design is the design and composition of an environment to be accessed, understood, and used to the greatest extent possible by all people regardless of age, size, ability, or disability.

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Topography

WAKE COUNTY NEW HIGH SCHOOL H12 WAKE COUNTY, NC

In this high school, to negotiate some steep grade change across the site, the classroom tower is set into the grade, with the main dining and commons area located on the middle floor. This area opens onto a dining plaza that steps down the site in a series of tiered seating and ramps to a grassy courtyard below. The tiered seating provides gathering for various sized groups, trees provide shade and reinforce the connection to nature. The flanking classroom towers on either side of the courtyard buffers surrounding elements while also embracing the connection of the classrooms to the landscape.

WAKE COUNTY NEW HIGH SCHOOL H12 WAKE COUNTY, NC

The topography of a site should also be considered when finding ways to integrate outdoor learning environments.

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INTENTIONAL DESIGN MAKES OUTDOOR EDUCATIONAL SPACES SUCCESSFUL

Security Security is of utmost concern on a school campus. The need to provide a safe space with limited general access needs to be balanced with a desire to have open views and allow for movement within the space and connectivity to the surrounding campus.

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COVID CONSIDERATIONS The National Council on School Facilities and Cooperative Strategies LLC estimate that schools across the country will only be able to fit approx. 60% of their enrolled students within indoor classrooms with required social distancing measures in place.

10 Students + 1 Adult Circle: 21’ Diameter

Can pre-pandemic ventilation systems support filtering current and future viruses? A solution to both of these issues would be capitalizing on the use of outdoor spaces on existing school sites to reduce the burden of both physical space and air quality on indoor environments.

12 Students + 1 Adult Amphitheater: 22’ Outside / 10’ Inside

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Schools can enhance, acquire, or better utilize outdoor space to create both unique learning environments and provide the flexibility needed to respond to crises such as these. Schools can both preserve and activate previously underutilized space with new opportunities for classrooms, gardens and natural play experiences. By thoughtful planning targeted to take advantage of the outdoor environments on existing school sites, protocols for physical distancing and air quality could be met to safely accommodate a larger student capacity to reduce the dependence on virtual learning.


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As schools look to support learning and education in nonconventional ways, the benefits of outdoor learning environments provide a natural progression of the collaborative commons space.

14 Students + 1 Adult Grid: 18’ x 18’ Rotated

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NEED HELP REIMAGINING YOUR LEARNING ENVIRONMENTS FOR THE FUTURE? Our K12 practice is at the forefront of trends in education design. From outdoor learning to flexible uses, we shape contemporary spaces that enhance learning. Our design approach pairs functionality and creativity, to for clients, nationwide.

Drop us a line. Questions@RATIOdesign.com

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deliver highly sustainable architecture


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OUR OUTDOOR LEARNING ENVIRONMENT EXPERTS

Lisa Esterrich PLA, ASLA Senior Associate / Raleigh Landscape Architecture Leader LEsterrich@RATIOdesign.com

Emily Earle AIA, LEED AP BD+C Associate / Architecture EEarle@RATIOdesign.com

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About RATIO RATIO is an international design firm. Our clients trust us to reimagine places of business, living, education, and community. We design with creativity and empathy, collaborating across the disciplines of architecture, interior design, landscape architecture, urban design, preservation, and graphic design to inspire, sustain and enhance our communities. We believe good design is inclusive, contextual, and timeless. At RATIO, we design for impact.

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