Innovative Spaces for Innovative Schools

Innovative thinking is the theme of charter schools, but Pamela Harwood says it takes more than the typical classroom design for students to get the full benefit of education at charter schools. Harwood says a school's facilities should mimic its distinctive approach to learning.

“They have no funding for facilities,” says Harwood, an architecture professor. “We’re trying to meet the innovative curriculum with innovative designs.”

Harwood and teams of Building Better Communities Fellows—students from a variety of majors who solve real-world problems for business or community partners—have worked with charter schools throughout Indiana and as far away as Colorado. The  teams complete case studies of best practices as well as profile charter schools locally to develop patterns and guidelines for the facility planning and educational development of charter schools.

Tracy Autenrieth, MArch '11, found rewards for both herself and her team's community partners.

"This experience has been a great way to give back to communities all around Indiana while still gaining real-world knowledge that'll help us in our career paths after college," she says. "The reason I initially chose to get involved was to get a better understanding of architecture in an educational setting. I decided to join Building Better Communities Fellows for a second semester because I understood how important the work we were doing was to the children at the schools and for generations to come. Charter schools are a great choice for public education, and the work we're doing with the existing schools will help potential charters in the future."

The variety of majors such as architecture, education, and sociology allows the team to examine ideas from numerous perspectives, Harwood says. in addition to building safety and best use of space, the groups focus on every aspect of design, which includes how the classrooms should be arranged, the lighting, and what type of furniture is best for a learning environment.

“We explored certain things like could they use this land and add an elementary school?” she says. “I think we kind of help them envision longer term ideas.”

The research the team collected is featured in the book, Charter Schools: Patterns of Innovation.

Related Links:

Building Better Communities 

College of Architecture and Planning

Department of Architecture

Immersive Learning