Building Conversations

November 8-11 in Austin, TX

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Conference Overview

Sponsored by the AIA Committee on Architecture for Education

“Building Conversations” in Austin, Texas will focus on the programming process and how these early decisions shape the learning that takes place inside the places architects create and equally important how these discussions between architects/planners and owners/users shape the design of the educational facility.

The conference content will focus specifically on the relationship of the programming and planning phase to the quality of the places of learning that are constructed. Buildings, according to Vitruvius, should exhibit the qualities of firmness, commodity and delight. It is throughout the programming phase that architects address the usefulness and convenience of the building (commodity). During the design phase architects address the pleasure and enjoyment of the building (delight) and during the construction document phase architects address the solid construction of the building (firmness). However, as we all know, these phases are not separate and distinct or even linear, there is interaction between form and function in every decision made. This interaction, this process is the design process. It is what architects do and how architects bring value to their clients. To create better buildings we need to better understand the relationship between early decisions about learning environments and what goes on inside the building including, the relationship of spaces to meet a program, to the form and substance of a building that will be standing long after the initial program has changed and evolved into something else.

The rigorous demands we establish for 21st century educational facilities in meeting the programmatic needs cannot be at the expense of the quality of the built environment. As educational planners and architects what we do is to find the right balance between interacting forces to create great learning environments.

One of the reasons this conference is occurring in Austin is due to the history of educational programming associated with the firm of CRS. We will look back at the method of inquiry developed and refined by that firm, trace the evolution of the thoughts and ideas, and look forward to how to apply these techniques to defining today’s problems in designing schools. In addition other approaches to planning and programming of schools have evolved and the conference will provide a variety of examples that participates can bring learn from and apply to their practice.

A major element in any discussion on school programming is technology. Like the offices we work in the schools our children learn in can change at a rapid rate based on the use of technology. Power requirements, wireless networks, projection capabilities and glare control are consistently discussed and debated during programming. Many times as architects we have more experience with the technology in schools then are clients. What does the future of educational technology hold and how will it impact our work? Sessions addressing the future of technology in schools and in places for learning will be a major focus of this event.

An educational specification is a term that is often used, school districts and architects often mistakenly assume that all that is needed is a list spaces and square footages and the rest of the details will simply fall into place. Educational Specifications are often overlooked as a valuable tool for the planning of a renovation or a new building. There use as a catalyst for reform and restructuring of the teaching and learning environment will also be explored.

As architects in the K-12 world most of clients do not have large and sophisticated planning staffs and much of the planning and programming work is part of the architect’s responsibility. For higher education clients the in-house staff exists to perform much of this work themselves. What can we learn from these examples? How does an outside consultant work differently with a higher education client? Taking advantage of institutions in the Austin area we will explore these issues.

When the doors to the school are opened the design process and the planning effort fade into the past and what is left to be used and judged is the building. We can and should study the programming process in relation to the final product and evaluate the quality of design learning from the steps taken by others so that the next generation of projects can learn from what has be built in the past.


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