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Arrowstreet's Larry Spang On Cutting-Edge Educational Design

The Massachusetts Building Authority recently tapped Boston-based Arrowstreet to design the renovation and expansion of Hildreth Elementary School in Harvard. Principal Larry Spang told us that launches a yearlong design process in which Arrowstreet will consider the infusion of technology, thoughtful landscaping and sustainability techniques to increase opportunities for learning.

In some senses, educational space design is paralleling creative office space design. We chatted with Spang about what a 21st-century school needs to be a success.


Bisnow: What's changed in educational thinking that affects design?

Spang: Educators are developing new ideas to enable student learning, ideas that focus on individual learning styles using a variety of active and engaged teaching methods, integrating new technologies. Schools need to adapt to accommodate this myriad of learning styles and techniques, while remaining flexible for a changing future.

Project-based and maker-centric learning are emerging, often as part of approaches that allow students to fuse different subjects into one longer-term assignment. That makes the need for well-designed breakout spaces imperative.

Bisnow: Where can breakout spaces go?

Spang: Arrowstreet approaches shared, underutilized spaces creatively to encourage active learning beyond the classroom. At Fenway High, for instance, we converted a hallway into a new cross-corridor reading room and circulation spine. At Boston Collegiate Charter School, an alley between two historic buildings was transformed into a new entrance lobby that serves as a casual gathering place.


Bisnow: What's the point of such unusual learning spaces?

Spang: Studies have shown that the quality of a school improves by locating learning opportunities both within classrooms and outside of them. By creating learning environments in corridors and other underused spaces, we expose students to the type of environments they're likely to experience in their educational and professional future. We’ve enjoyed exploring different ways to get the most out of the square footage available for a project, and are sure that as teaching methods and technology continue to evolve, so will the way we design spaces for learning.

Bisnow: What's your approach to technology in a learning space?

Spang: One is in our STEM/STEAM labs, where we have the room in modules, with computers put away until needed, to best encourage creative thinking. This nuanced approach to technology allows students to see technology through the lens of art, and not just as something cool or new.

Bisnow: What's the latest in sustainable educational space?         

Spang: The use of prefabricated structures along with traditional construction to maximize budget and abbreviate construction time, for one thing. Also, there are opportunities to be creative with the building systems and fenestration to provide low-energy, passive, and low-first cost climate control.

The Net Zero Energy Schools Program was launched just last month. Our King Open/Cambridge Street Upper Schools & Community Complex (pictured), which we co-designed with William Rawn Associates, is planned to be the first net zero school in Massachusetts.