How Do RTM Engineers and Legat Architects Design A+ Learning Environments?
Studies show that education improves the likelihood of success in careers and in personal life for individuals from childhood into adulthood. That’s why RTM is proud of our longtime partnership with Legat Architects.
For over a decade, RTM and Legat have collaborated on designs for remodeling and renovating more than three dozen educational facilities in Illinois and Iowa. Our work together spans learning environments from the elementary level through high schools and community colleges.
How do we help educators, administrators and builders create safe, comfortable settings for learners from early years through the transition into the workforce?
I sat down with Robin Randall, a principal at Legat Architects and the firm’s Director of Learning, to discuss the keys to our successful working relationship. Here are some of the highlights from my conversation with Robin, edited for this article.
Robin, you were quoted recently saying, “The intersection of academia and architecture is where the magic happens.” What do you mean by that?
To me, magic is when we do something different that we’ve never done before.
We can do more research and theoretical discovery in academia, and then we need an opportunity to test it. That’s when practice and purpose happen together. We can try something in reality, and see if it works.
We do a preoccupancy study to understand: What’s the purpose? What is the mission the students and the teachers have for the project? Then, we can document the design intent.
Say, we want to make a difference in five ways, right? So, we document that as the purpose statement of the project. And then, once the project is designed, it’s built and people are using it, we love to go back in and do a post-occupancy study to understand if our five points are actually being achieved.
What’s fun is to have an academic come back and help us with that process so that it’s unbiased. We work with Northwestern and have had a behavioral scientist come back and evaluate a building. She actually discovered that we had lowered bullying through the way that we designed the building.
I have all these resources that inform me, but it’s also understanding how important education is. That it’s a game changer for poverty. It’s a game changer for communities.
Do you think your belief in the importance of education ties to designing better educational facilities?
There’s lots of research that supports: If children understand that curiosity is important and that education is important, they can change everything about their lives.
So, what we want to do, first off, is no harm. We don’t want to create any barriers to learning in an environment. We don’t want an environment that’s too loud for someone that’s sound sensitive. We want to create an environment that’s good for extroverts like me. Or introverts like my brother.
We want everybody to feel comfortable in an environment… always having that radical empathy. Where you put someone else’s shoes on, but you also put on their lens and try and imagine how they’re going to use the space.
At the high school level, often our job involves designing a main kitchen that serves the rest of the school district. They cook meals at the high school and then send them over to warming kitchens at the elementary schools. So, our design has to consider how they’re transporting food.
Yes, and how are students able to use the cafeteria in an efficient way? We also want those students to get excited about healthy choices. For the Rock Island High School cafeteria remodeling, we thought about how high school students like to have a variety of environments where they can eat.
So, there are high top tables. There are low tops. There are stairs where they can sit. A very grown up space that feels like a bookstore cafe.
It’s a fun way to innovate. Again, that design magic. A little bit of thought around how the space will be used helps transform the way it works.
We’ve done quite a few projects with Legat for community colleges, and we take what we learn at the high school level and innovate further.
Often times, community college spaces are where adult learners will be earning technical degrees and certificates. So, we find that the college will want to have more technology put into the space than a high school.
If it’s an automotive repair program, they’ll want a vehicle exhaust system that’s under the slab. They’ll want this system built in. Another example is community college libraries, which are much larger than high school libraries.
Let’s talk about the Harper College library.
That’s a really fun story because we totally transformed a 1960s building into a state-of-the-art library, bringing in technology at all levels.
There are study spaces. There are nooks and crannies for introverts. There are shared small-group spaces. There are classrooms. The stairway leads you to all of these levels. But there also are little alcoves off the staircase for shared space and learning.
This library has become the centerpiece for the community college. It’s where all the students want to hang out. It’s a great meeting place for every type of student. Whatever you’re studying, there’s something for you in that library.
We’re designing these spaces together, and we’re making them better. We’re up to making a difference in that design by being informed people. And the smarter we are about what we need to do, the smarter the design is.
There is much, much more to my chat with Robin Randall. Hear more of our conversation about collaborative design for educational facilities in episode 17 of RTM’s Beyond Engineering podcast:
See the designs and educational facilities Robin and I discussed on our YouTube channel here:
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