A district-wide initiative to update every school’s library (now called Innovation Centers) into bright, engaging, and collaborative learning environments for students, staff, and community members drove the renovations at this suburban middle school. The dark, underutilized space did not support the district’s forward-thinking curriculum, so ARCON was challenged to push the envelope and create an environment that captured the district’s goals.
Individual science classrooms did not allow for collaboration amongst classes, nor did it allow space for demonstration, experimentation, and interaction. The desire to integrate STEM curriculum at a larger scale initiated the creation of a STEM Wing. We were challenged to convert six traditional classrooms into one light-filled, collaborative learning environment, complete with a research and development space for exploration, discovery and sharing.
The Innovation Center is zoned into eight unique spaces: a collaboration lounge, critical thinking lounge, presentation area, large group seating area, think tank, small group lounge, large media room, and genius bar. The large media room, outfitted with a moveable partition, and a retractable green screen, allows flexibility in a pace that supports digital production. In lieu of a traditional circulation desk, a genius bar promotes self-directed assistance.
The new STEM Wing is outfitted with movable glass walls allowing individual classrooms to open up into the corridor, creating one unified learning space, and designating almost 100% of the wing to learning opportunities. Classrooms are outfitted with several monitors, screens, and projectors, taking away the traditional “front of the classroom”, and allowing learning to be mobile and encompass the entire space. The corridor is outfitted with touch-down counter-space, complete with stools that allow for ease of movement and flexibility. The entire STEM wing puts learning on display, as the design creates transparency between all classroom spaces and fosters curiosity, critical thinking, and exploration.
The addition of new skylights in the Innovation Center and STEM Wing provides natural light to all spaces, decreasing the utilization of artificial light and creates a connection to the outdoors. Not only did removing the traditional ceiling, and exposing the structure provide height and openness, but color-coded conduit created a learning opportunity for students to understand how an HVAC system operates. New drop-ceilings, floating clouds, baffles, and acoustical panels were carefully placed in order to provide areas of “shelter” for students, as well as provide an ideal sound quality for the learning environment. Selective use of color on the walls, ceiling, finishes, and furniture, helped create a bright, inviting, and inspiring environment. The furniture offers a variety of work environments to cater toward individual or group learning, while providing flexibility that coincides with the curriculum that drove the design of the space.
The main focus and drive for the Innovation Center and STEM Wing was to create exciting and nurturing environments for students to learn, collaborate, and grow in a myriad of ways.