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February 14, 2017
Architects for Building or Remodeling a School for PBL

by John Larmer
Editor in Chief

I recently got a request from someone planning a new charter school (for refugees—stay tuned, we’re hoping to have a guest blog post about it once it’s established). She wanted to know about architects who could help design a school building to be PBL-friendly. I put the request to our staff and 90-strong National Faculty and got several responses, which I’ve listed below.

Generally speaking, a PBL-friendly school building is flexible, has room for student and teacher collaboration, and allows for public exhibition of student work. Here’s what David Stephen at New Vista, the design firm that did the High Tech High Village in San Diego, says an innovative 21st-century school building should include:

  • A "wow space" commons room for formal and informal gatherings
  • Projects studios for student gatherings, small group work, and presentations
  • Teaching neighborhoods for integrated curriculum delivery
  • Movable walls between teaming teachers/classrooms
  • Shared teacher offices and workspaces
  • Highly flexible, multi-purpose seminar rooms
  • Ubiquitous technology
  • Multiple venues for display and exhibition of student work
  • Indoor/outdoor connections

I’d add that PBL-friendly classrooms are similarly flexible. Students either sit at large tables or desks that can be moved together to form small groups. Informal workspaces are available, like those seen in many Silicon Valley tech companies. Technology is readily available and internet connections are strong. For more on redesigning classrooms, check out this post on Edutopia by an elementary school teacher. And here's an article about efforts in Silicon Valley itself to redesign high school classrooms and schools "to promote creativity and collaboration."

Here’s a list of architects and designers—if you know of more, please add them in the comments below:

New Vista. This firm designed the High Tech High Village in San Diego. Its website has some great resources, including a comprehensive list of publications on innovative school design.

David Jakes Designs is based in Illinois and led by a former teacher and school administrator turned designer and educational change consultant. He’s got a long and impressive list of clients.

Architects of Achievement, near Seattle, is led by Victoria Bergsagel and has nationwide clients, with a focus on small PBL schools and STEM schools.

The Third Teacher+ is a firm in Chicago that also has a book and a long list of clients; their tagline is “We design inspired learning communities.”

Fielding Nair International works in the U.S. and around the world and offers a “complete range of educational facilities planning services.”

The Stichler Group is a large, well-established “comprehensive architectural, engineering, and interior design firm” that has also been involved with High Tech High.

Carrier Johnson is another “design-centric architectural, interior design and branding practice” firm based in San Diego and Los Angeles that has worked on High Tech High.

Dore and Whittier is located in Boston and Vermont and does a lot of work in New England (a BIE staff member worked with them when she was a principal to design a new middle school building specifically to facilitate PBL).

Know of other PBL school designers and resources? Please add them to the comments below.


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