BBS News

Next Millennium Design

The shift beyond 21st Century School Design is happening now.

School districts are planning for re-opening after the pandemic shutdown. Student-based learning and its desire for open, flexible, and adaptable space is now faced with the challenges presented by social distancing and overall hygiene concerns. This phenomenon transcends beyond schools to engage homes, public libraries, places of business and just about any space where people gather in close physical proximity to one another.

The Architect’s Role

To be a thoughtful listener and planner, focusing on spatial solutions that complement the work of school officials, teachers and staff. To share knowledge of Building Codes, State Guidelines & Mandates in order to allow clients to implement immediate, short-term and long-term spatial and culture-of-use modifications to their buildings, sites and individually unique communities.

Design is a verb; learning is a verb; a building is intrinsically a noun. How do we transform it into a verb as well? Its spaces and series of spaces are all about flexibility; the ideal Next Millennium School would bellow and transform like a sail in the wind reshaping itself to follow varying courses set into pluralistic and reactive patterns. If we can’t build a new building, we can look through this lens at existing buildings and come up with innovative solutions that test our collective creativity and fit within our community vision for safe, healthy, and inviting learning environments that are reflective of our constantly
changing world.

To balance the practical with the extraordinary in the creation of places people want to return to.

Some Big Questions

  • What are the changing definitions and roles of the Educational Community & Learning Environments?
  • What is the changing definition and role of public schools with regard to providing meals, childcare, health resources, and shelter in times of emergency?
  • How can student collaboration continue within the parameters of social distancing? What does a six foot wide “bubble” of space look and feel like in a school setting? Is it so bad? Can we learn from the medical field in its use of robotics to perform surgery, etc. as an inspirational model for how students may still be able to collaborate on physical projects remotely?
  • What are the pros and cons of a purely technology-based student experience?
  • How can learning environments consistently help inspire students to be self-aware, empathetic towards themselves and others, and maintain a desire for lifelong learning while perhaps being located pluralistically within schools, homes and work environments? What is the value of different age groups being together socially in a shared physical space?

Next Steps

  • Immediate Future – Follow protocols as much as is humanly possible regarding social distancing, protective gear, cleanliness and collective consciousness of new parameters. Consider measures to evaluate and document the well-being of general population and special needs students and staff members on a continual basis.
  • Short Term Future – Consider re-zoning existing schools internally, including passage routes, classrooms and assembly spaces. Manage time and scheduling to minimize population density during any given moment.
  • Long Term Future – Anticipate changes in design approach to the more global concepts of pandemic disease and its effects, long after this specific pandemic is over. Is there a rotation of students’ time spent in school, at home and at the workplace that effectively spreads out the student-based experience of learning? How can we create a consistent experience for students moving forward and how does this effectively transform our definition of “community”?

We’re Here to Help

It’s our job as planners to see below the surface when looking at educational space in schools and other building types; to maintain the practicalities of shelter, health, and safety without sacrificing the potential for the extraordinary when it comes to learning opportunities. We are here to help ensure the overall well-being and personal growth of students, staff, and the community at large by looking through the lens of Next Millennium Design for learning environments.


There will be additional information to come on this topic in the days and weeks to come. Be well, stay safe, stay engaged – there is light up ahead.


Kevin J. Walsh, AIA, LEED AP
Education Planning  Architect
(631) 294-0703


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