by David Cockrill, CEO
I’m proud of the fact that Red Chair has an award winning school design portfolio in Tennessee.
Last year we had the opportunity to work with Morrison School, a rural school in McMinnville, located in Warren County. The project has already received an AIA East Tennessee Merit Award, and this year we were honored with an AIA State Design Award. To be recognized as one of the top designs in the state is a great honor – especially for a school facility of such a modest budget as judged among the ninety or so projects considered this year.
In a rural community, sometimes schools are the only civic buildings, and we know from our work in schools that architecture can greatly influence students’ academic performance and confidence. Knowing this, we take great care to design schools that have the ability to elicit the greatest from those who attend and work there.
Although LEED certification is a feature any school district would be proud to have, it is just not financially possible for many of them. However, the leadership of Warren County Schools values the principles of sustainable design, just as we do. We set out to create a school that would capture the short and long-term cost-savings and functionality inherent with simple sustainable design concepts. For instance, the 31-classroom building has a cafeteria with a stage, making use of a flexible, multi-purpose space requiring less building square footage while satisfying multiple program demands.
Perhaps most notably, natural light is a key element in the design of this building. Parallel classroom wings are oriented on the east-west axis for optimal solar orientation. The south-facing classrooms have shading devices, while north-facing ones do not. We think that a design enabling more natural light is not only beneficial for the environment, but it helps students feel less cooped up, and stuck under fluorescent lights. Incorporating natural light into buildings is one of the greatest ways of achieving more with less in architectural design, and we’re not the only ones to recognize this.
In a country where schools spend more than $8 billion each year on energy (about 26 percent of which is for lighting alone), it makes sense to find ways to help reduce the financial load on schools districts, which right now spend more on energy than on textbooks and computers combined. Passing on energy savings through the simple use of natural lighting makes great sense to school districts and taxpayers.
Additionally, since the late nineties, when administrators and school advocates were bent on trying to find ways to boost student performance, rigorous studies came out showing the relationship between building design and student performance. A 2003 study found that classrooms with the most daylighting had a 20 percent better learning rate in math, and a 26 percent improved rate in reading, compared to classrooms with little or no daylighting.
Certainly financial and human resources also play a big role in how well students behave and perform, but when studies looking at school design started revealing the interconnection between such features as a building’s natural light and student performance, administrators began to seriously consider the future impact for school renovation and new building designs. It might seem obvious, but natural light helps people feel better, and when people feel better, they can perform better, too.