Joel Sims has spent a lifetime thinking about what goes into making a successful school. The son of a military man, Sims attended 10 different schools before ninth grade, and for the past 23 years he has designed K–12 projects for several architecture firms. Throughout his career, Sims, since 2003 the principal of his own, Lancaster, Pa.–based firm, Sims Architects, had noticed a gap in the marketplace: There was no comprehensive resource for educators, parents, and other interested parties to connect with architects or to see best practices for inspiration. So he launched Schooldesigner.com in 2006 to "elevate school design throughout the world," Sims says.
A for-profit venture, Schooldesigner.com aims to demystify the design process and make architectural services and products accessible to those outside the profession. The site is organized into three categories: new products, building features, and a directory of firms specializing in K–12 design. Visitors can search the directory by name or by region and access a snapshot of the work that listed firms offer. Any architect can post a profile for about $400, but the site reserves the right to edit for content. "We're not trying to be the police of good design, but we have rejected some projects and products because of questionable quality," Sims says. The project coverage highlights specific features of a school's design rather than focusing on the entire program. Sims believes this approach—"an online idea book," he calls it—makes it easier for interested parties to find solutions to their own needs.
The site also offers a newsletter with articles on topics that don't usually get much attention, like innovative accessibility solutions. And last year, Sims launched a design competition?dubbed the Collabetition?in which teachers, students, and administrators join design professionals in judging entrants in several categories, including aesthetics and green design.
Recent site updates include a new look and a section on LEED school designs. With 100,000 hits per month and a growing roster of firms and projects, Sims is already working on his next move: Collegedesigner.com, which will be dedicated to higher education.