Nanawall HSW60 sliding glass wall
Courtesy NanaWall Nanawall HSW60 sliding glass wall

School design today is about the student, says Catherine Wolfe, a senior interior designer at Ashley McGraw Architects (AMA) in Syracuse, N.Y. “There has been an ongoing shift in the climate of education towards a more active and student-centered learning environment.”

As a result, amenities once more common in higher education are making their way into K–12. “Whether public or private, schools are interested in having spaces that align with what students are going to experience in college,” says Erik Kocher, AIA, design principal and partner at Hastings+Chivetta, in St. Louis, Mo.

Below are several products that designers across the country have found useful in upgrading educational environments to increase security measures, integrate learning laboratories, and provide classroom flexibility.

Courtesy School Guard Glass

Safety Is Number One
“Our children are the most important people in our lives,” says Michelle Carpenter, director of education and government at Shaw Contract, in Cartersville, Ga., “and we’re having to think about scary things as we build school spaces,” such as specifying windows that can’t be kicked in.

Erica Gaswirth, AIA, a senior associate at PBDW Architects, in New York City, recommends School Guard Glass, which can be encased in doors, windows, and curtain wall assemblies as single panes or thermopanes. The glass is not “exceedingly heavy or thick,” she says, but it is as effective, if not more, than bulletproof glass. “It’s an added level of protection and security without having to go down that ballistics road.”

Drawn Lines luxury vinyl tile by Interface
Courtesy Interface Drawn Lines luxury vinyl tile by Interface

Makers Gonna Make
In spaces where carpet won’t suffice, such as laboratories and art studios, designers turn to durable, easy-to-clean finishes. “Most carpet manufacturers are coming out with luxury vinyl flooring,” says Hastings+Chivetta interior designer Alyssa Jackson. Interface’s luxury vinyl tile comes in wood grains, metallics, and linear patterns. An optional acoustical backing offers added sound mitigation.

To help publicize maker spaces to both the school and local communities, architects are using floor-to-ceiling, butt-glazed window systems and visual treatments. Gaswirth often turns to Solyx Films, which makes decorative films in a range of patterns and graphics, including gradients and faux stained glass.

NanaWall Acoustfold
NanaWall Acoustfold

Shifting Boundaries
Flexibility in the physical parameters of classrooms is important because “spaces are blending into each other,” Carpenter says. “We’re even hearing the word ‘classroom’ less.” PBDW project architect Thomas Faust has specified NanaWall HSW60 between two laboratory spaces. The sliding glass partition can be opened for robot races, to create a large art studio, or to join two classes, and then closed to separate the spaces while proffering a solid sound barrier.

If acoustical separation is a top priority, Faust suggests NanaWall’s AcoustiFold, which can achieve a Sound Transmission Class rating up to 45.

Offering a range of spaces for educator breaks is important too, notes Taryn Kinney, AIA, a Houston-based principal at DLR Group. “Soft lounge furniture can easily partition space into different zones and levels of privacy.” She likes OFS’s Heya system, offered with noise-dampening felt and multiple add-ons, such as screen mounts and metal casters.

Heya by OFS
Courtesy OFS Heya by OFS

“Furniture such as tables and chairs that fold and nest provides options for the occupants to set up the space in a way that best suits their current task,” adds AMA’s Wolfe. Her firm frequently specifies KI’s Pirouette table and Strive stacking chairs. Pirouette offers nine tabletop shapes, and both the table and chairs can fold, roll, and nest for compact storage.

Strive nesting chairs by KI
Courtesy KI Strive nesting chairs by KI
Strive nesting chairs by KI
Courtesy KI Strive nesting chairs by KI
KI's Pirouette tables
Courtesy KI KI's Pirouette tables
Pirouette table, by KI
Courtesy KI Pirouette table, by KI
Pirouette table by KI
Courtesy KI Pirouette table by KI
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