Designers have the unique opportunity to shape the physical environment. Part of the intrigue of the built world is its reciprocal ability to shape us as well. When we realize the spaces we create (if done well) can make an indelible positive impact on lives, the importance of good design – especially in educational settings – becomes clear. Architect Robert Ross of “Ross Design Architects” and Interior designer Stephanie Andrews of “Balance Design” are both well aware of this.
In 2012 both Robert and Stephanie’s children attended the Atlanta Neighborhood Charter School. At that time, the campus was a hodgepodge of well-intentioned volunteer and teacher driven attempts to improve the school with no overall conceptual plan. What happens when philanthropically-minded design colleagues whose children go to the same school get together? Well, in the case of Robert and Stephanie, they approached the Executive Director of the ANCS, Matt Underwood, about improving the environmental quality of the 90 year old school. The director approved and the designers embarked on creating a design plan that could be implemented over time. This led to a pro-bono three-year renovation collaboration.
The bulk of the design work was determined during the first year of the renovation. A uniform paint scheme was determined, and the first floor was painted. Recognizing the length of the halls created an unfavorable impression, the team devised a color block system to visually break up and enliven the long space. The original transoms over the classroom doors closed up during a previous renovation were reopened allowing some natural light to reach the previously dark halls. Uniform signage was added throughout. Previous to the renovation, one of the school’s side doors was functioning as the main entrance. The main entry was relocated to create a more ceremonial sense of arrival and departure. Installation of new lobby lights and reception desk also upgraded this experience. Careful placement of Legacy artwork and designated spaces to display current student work were established.
In the second year, the auditorium/gym, and stairwells were painted. This continued the original theme and really unified the school. Also during this year, the school was awarded Grants to Green award allowing them to replace windows and install new energy efficient air conditioning systems and LED lighting throughout the school. The lighting transformed the spaces while greatly reducing energy usage.
The final and completing step was taken this past summer with the installation of a new seamless floor throughout the halls, replacing the worn and outdated vinyl composition tile. The floor will reduce ongoing maintenance costs because it does not require any significant maintenance. It also completed the look as originally envisioned 3 years ago. It also helped that the staff bought into the idea early and fully participated in achieving the overall vision for the campus. Also this year sound absorptive wall covering and a new floor were added to the Gym.
In the end, the school was improved and the children were provided with a more dignified environment for learning – an environment more likely to make a positive, lasting impression. The whole project was generated simply from two engaged parents getting together and talking about what they could do to improve an undesirable situation. Properly pitched, the idea took form and eventually became reality. Although Robert and Stephanie’s specialized knowledge about architecture and design proved crucial to executing the project, the success of the project would not have been possible without the initial buy-in of the Executive Director, Matt Underwood, or the tireless efforts of ANCS staff members Kari Lovell and Jim Kessenich who managed the implementation. There is still more work to be done, but a tremendous shift has occurred. This is a great example of principle of how community engagement by thoughtful professionals can create real, positive and sustainable impact.
Leave a Reply