Located on an 8-acre site in a New Jersey exurb, REED (Resources for Effective Education Development) Academy houses a non-profit academy for children with autism spectrum disorders. The 27,000 sq ft academy accommodates 10 administrators, 30 teachers, and 30 children ages three to twenty-one.
The building supports a highly individualised educational approach, using science-based, applied behavioural technologies. The goal is to maximise student potential and independence, ultimately to mainstream them in their home school district. The design for the academy builds on the idea of the environment as a teacher; using both structured and unstructured zones, the school design encourages productive relationships between built space and pedagogy.
REED Academy is one of a select group of schools featured in The Edgeless School: Design for Learning, a new exhibition at the Center for Architecture in New York City. Using glass and a careful layout, REED Academy 'blurs the distinctions between learning needs approaches and environments,' says WXY founding principal Claire Weisz, utilizing glass in order to even remove the distinctions between actual spaces. The design is based on applied behavioural analysis (ABA), a highly regarded approach to addressing the needs of young autistic people.
The firm has a growing practice in cutting-edge school and district-wide planning strategies. One of them, geospatial analysis, uses the 'geo-coding' of student populations to address inequities in scholastic resources and create new, promising opportunities for districts to reinven
The school design is based on an interior street that wraps around a central multipurpose room, serving as the communal heart of the building. Two wings open up to the landscape beyond, creating a sheltered courtyard for supervised outdoor play. The court and the wings are connected by alcoves that are used as ‘special points of interest’ such as toy areas, student stores and a place for playing a piano along what would conventionally be hallways with doors.
Visibly increasing the number of different activities creates a link between maximising social contact and the reward system that is at the heart of REED’s one-on-one techniques. Along each street are alcoves where students set up stations to learn communication and other life skills through modelling and play. Open communal spaces are dispersed throughout the school to encourage a sense of community and interaction among students. A life-skills wing provides training for everyday functions such as housekeeping and personal care, with a teaching kitchen, laundry, house maintenance area, and copy/supply centre. Nearby is a preschool with an outdoor enclosed playground.
The building favours efficiency and a high benefit/cost ratio. A pre-engineered metal building system is customised to increase window area and variety of form. Clerestories of polycarbonate insulated panels are built into bow-trusses; a dark standing-seam roof contrasts with lighter-coloured horizontal banding of the concrete board below, with its coloured and standard window units.
The goal of REED’s new building is to serve as both a school and research institute. Here an affordable building typology combined with a distinct architecture reflecting the need to combine residential and educational characters in a single school building. Each year, 1 in 110 children are diagnosed with autism or PDD-NOS; many would benefit from a specialised academy. Families struggling with autism face many hurdles - one of the toughest is finding suitable educational programs.
The exhibition The Edgeless School is on display now through January 19th at the Center for Architecture, 536 LaGuardia Place, New York City.