Encouraging the innovative idea of translating an educational program directly into the built learning environment, an award-winning American architect shared his views with an international audience in China.
Gaylaird Christopher, principal architect and president of Architecture for Education Incorporated, Pasadena, California, participated as a guest speaker at The 2nd International Symposium on New and Renovation Design of Contemporary K-12 Education Buildings, held last month.
The prestigious conference, held in Hangzhou of Zhejiang Province, China, was themed "Creating for 21th Century Learning Space." The symposium was sponsored by the Beijing Union Friendship Exchange Center for Architecture. The Committee of Educational Building Experts, China Ministry of Education, also supported the event.
A Fellow of the American Institute of Architects, Christopher presented the philosophy behind the body of his work: Inspiring students to excel and become lifelong learners. Boasting an extensive background in the field of educational facilities design, the speaker addressed 250 attendees, including educational facilities managers, architects, developers, and investors from the various provinces in China.
He said, "My goal throughout the 40 years of my career has been to improve pedagogy through the translation of educational program directly into the built learning environment. Every design element, plan, building system, and architectural detail provides a teaching moment for students, as the architecture that surrounds them evidences a 3-dimensional textbook."
Voicing his belief that a child learns in multiple ways, Christopher stressed the importance of optimizing that experience in a carefully conceived, totally supportive learning environment.
He shared details of his own revolutionary Futures Planning Process that includes students, educators, and community members, along with institutional and business leaders, in the planning and design process.
"It is unique to my design approach," Christopher explained. "Every Futures participant contributes ideas and challenges – their involvement is essential and encouraged. Futures attendees explore how local resources can best be utilized, foundational to expanding the learning options for their students and community."
He said the process asks for education-based contributions from everyone – students reach out in service to their community and the educational pathways it opens, as the community enriches learning for its students, in and out of the classroom.
Christopher told his symposium audience that the idea blossomed for him from his experiences as a university student.
"I became interested in the field of education and sought to work with some of the preeminent school architects in the country," he said. "I believed that architecture could do so much more in support of learning. Renewed funding sources created opportunities to build new schools; this was a chance for me to institute a strong community engagement process."
He explained that diversity of input and a community-based focus are signature elements of his Futures Planning Process; the approach has made available unique resources to the students who attend the schools designed through this approach.
The architect said the process challenges clients to look beyond the familiar and ask, “How can this new idea / technology apply to our schools and to our community?” Students, educators, businesses/organizations, and community are involved in a partnership, he added, in which everyone recognizes the benefits that will accrue for students and the greater community.
Offering a detailed color slide presentation of graphics and photographs, the speaker shared some of the success stories achieved through employing this type of design strategy.
"Our unique planning efforts forged strong relationships with and between K-12 educators, universities, community colleges, the YMCA/YWCA, fire stations, medical centers, and businesses throughout the country," he explained.
"Our participatory planning process pioneered high school students’ attendance in college classes; university education students’ direct on-campus involvement in teaching elementary students; the first Starbucks operated by students on a high school campus; community fitness centers; extended hours child development centers; student internships with businesses, organizations, and institutions throughout their communities."
Stressing the importance of expanding the scope of schools, the conference speaker outlined his view of the relationship between the community and the learning environment.
"Standing on the shoulders of the many distinguished mentors and trailblazers who came before me," he said, "I continue to embrace the challenge of designing unique, signature learning environments for our clients – broadening schools’ identities to include community hubs and gathering places that support the highest levels of academic achievement."
While attending the conference in China, Christopher said he was able to forge a working relationship with a local architectural firm. He added that his Pasadena firm and the group of Chinese architects are beginning plans for several future public works projects within their country.
Organizers said the goal of the conference was to enhance the exchange of experiences between professionals from many countries in educational facilities construction and to elevate the design level of schools in China.
In addition to Christopher, one of America's foremost educational architects, other speakers at the international presentation represented the countries of Australia, the United Kingdom, Germany, China, and Japan.
Speakers at the conference included successful architects and professionals in the field of K-12 educational architecture. Each presenter showcased new construction or renovation projects completed by his/her firm in detail -- from concept design to completion of projects for kindergarten, primary school, middle school and high school.