Student Architects Reimagine School Space

Students in Upper School visual arts teacher Travis Chandler’s Architecture course spend a semester steeped in the skills, techniques and concepts that make for a robust foundation in the understanding of architectural principles. To help make what they have been learning this past semester more salient for his students, Chandler recently led his class in a month-long immersive project to reimagine the “Cat Box” gathering space in the Upper and Middle School hallway through the eyes of an architect.

At the onset of this assignment, the students worked as a team to learn more about this space, its history and what its potential future might hold. This process involved more than 30 interviews with faculty, students, staff and members of the administration as well as a review of prior research conducted by the 7th grade this past academic year for their annual Interdisciplinary Design Week project. In addition to sizing up this space semantically and emotionally, students used state-of-the-art digital instruments to take detailed measurements of the space they would use to develop realistic 3D models of their proposed solutions.

After doing their research, students determined the objectives of their proposed redesigns, as follows:
  • Provide sufficient seating for graderoom use
  • Offer more access to Wi-Fi, technology and power outlets
  • Use the space better overall
  • Feature better sound control
  • Make the space more durable and cleanable
Beyond the tangible features and benefits of their proposed redesigns, students hoped to embody aspects of the school’s mission with their solutions, specifically:
  • Foster an inclusive environment
  • Promote social interactions
  • Use the space better overall
  • Create a sense of complete community
As a culminating activity, students invited a delegation of administrators and faculty as well as architect and Parker parent emeritus Chip von Weise to share in their “pitches” for the Cat Box redesign.

At this gathering, students worked in groups to present three unique proposals using 3D computer renderings and overhead displays. While striving to uphold elements of the school’s mission, each proposed redesign addressed the objectives outlined in their own special ways, maintaining a focus on being aesthetically pleasing as well code compliant.

After each group presented, von Weise queried each on the thinking behind their proposed redesign, pointing out elements he felt offered viable solutions. Von Weise also supplied real-world advice about how accomplishing the objectives in a project plan rarely provides the best solution. Rather, using elements of the student designs, von Weise demonstrated how emotional elements of proposed designs often make the biggest difference between a design that simply works for a client versus one that a client loves—a lesson in life for architects and human beings alike!

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Francis W. Parker School educates students to think and act with empathy, courage and clarity as responsible citizens and leaders in a diverse democratic society and global community.