Student-centred design

Wednesday 29 Feb 2012

A collaborative design process emphasising student involvement results in an inspired teaching tool

Completed in April 2011, Samuel Brighouse Elementary School is a replacement K-7 school located in Richmond, British Columbia. Built for an enrollment of 505 students, the two-storey 4,777-sq-m structure includes classrooms, administration space, a library, community space and a renovated gymnasium.

The school is the result of a collaborative design process that emphasised student involvement. Through charettes, illustrations, and videos that captured the qualities they wanted in their school, field trips through the construction site and a project blog that kept the community up-to-date, the students offered the design team informed, dynamic, and environmentally progressive input. This input inspired the playful roof form and was used to substantiate many design decisions, such as the provision for touch-screen technology and lots of windows and colour.

Based on goals of transparency and collaborative learning, the school creates connections both internally and with its surrounding community. Centered on flexible and adaptable learning environments, the design includes indoor collaborative project areas and outdoor courtyards, low ‘peek’ windows that connect even the youngest students to nature and a shared community garden. A Neighbourhood Learning Centre houses community-based organisations offering during-and-after-school care programs and adult literacy courses, extending the school’s operating hours into the evenings, weekends and summer.

The school is the physical manifestation of the district’s environmental stewardship policies and serves as an educational tool. Through geo-exchange energy sources, carefully managed daylighting and solar hot water collectors, the school has operated without consuming fossil fuels on several occasions and is one of the most energy-efficient and lowest carbon-emitting elementary schools in Canada. Locally harvested wood is the primary building material, contributing to a welcoming and inspiring learning environment. Transformed into an evocative architectural gesture, the undulating atrium wood roof - constructed from typical 2x4s and steel v-shaped king-posts - is the school’s signature architectural feature.

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