Our thoughts on architecture

Rough Draft: Architects so far have failed in terms of school safety. However, its not necessarily the "physical plant" that is the main issue. In every case we strive to design in a way that will enhance the student experience. Educators (our clients) are in the "business" of education. Theirgoal should be to provide their clients (students) an enjoyable schoolexperience so students can perform well. When we humans experience pleasant environments, we enjoy life and we perform better. At least that is the conceit that Architects have about the work we do. In the case of educational facilities, we design schools for the "best" students. And ALL students are the best students. We want to provide the best environment for the relationship between teacher and student to thrive.  There is no such thing as a "bad" student. There may be students that haven't yet found their passion.

Do tall fences really make for a safer school?

As a firm we avoid the design of places of incarceration. We leave that to others. For us our mentality is simply that we aren't good at making places that are fortress like. We aim for welcoming yet safe buildings and campus environments. Because of the proliferation of school shootings in America, there is a new proliferation of tall fencing around school sites in California. These fencing layouts are rarely designed by Architects. They are designed as obvious "barriers to entry" and try to funnel individuals through specific orifices' of entry. I have talked to many k through 12 students and almost every one I have talked to has indicated that "those fences don't make me feel safe and I don't think they really do anything to make my school safer".

After each shooting, a school district board and adminstrators appear to have a new need to "take action". That means installing tall fences. Often the fence layouts and sometimes installations are done by the District maintenance staff with little thought for aesthetics and maximum thought for looking intimidating and minimizing costs.

Here are some thoughts on proposed principles for school safety. These are opinions that will evolve with time and experience.

A parent should NEVER have to have a conversation with a child as to what to do when someone shows up in a classroom with a firearm with the intent of killing. Schools should be sanctuaries of safety. The question is: how does society re-achieve this without making a place of learning in to a virtual day-prison?

Architects should...

  1. Advocate for removing firearms from society. Realistically this may never be possible. If not, then limit purchases to individuals older than 25 years. Do not allow for parental approval to override such a restriction.
  2. Advocate for public investment in mental health programs for schools. This is a "soft" and not "public" way of finding and solving problems before they occur. In support of this concept, we need to advocate for the de-stigmatization of psychological counselling.
  3. Design schools - not prisons. We should not put up fences willy-nilly to satisfy a political need to show that something is being done. If fencing and barriers are needed, and this is truly often the case, the design of such barriers should be elegant and as invisible as possible. Fences do not have to be "in your face" designs. Unless it is important to show a community that something visible is being done.
  4. Advocate for Teachers being in a safe environment without question. Teachers should not be police officers, they should not have firearms in the classroom or be expected to be the first line of defense. Their job is to teach.
  5. Advocate for students and their parents. No parent should have to have a discussion with their child about what to do if someone enters their classroom with a weapon intending to harm them. This is a failure of society. Schools the school buildings that the school is sheltered in should be a sage sanctuary for learning and growing.