Washington, DC – In testimony before senior White House cabinet members, school design architect Jay Brotman, AIA, partner at Svigals + Partners, has pushed for legislation being spearhead by the American Institute of Architects (AIA) that promotes the design of open learning environments that enhance safety and security.
“The desire to craft design strategies that mitigate the challenges schools face is an absolute priority. As architects, we do this every day,” said Brotman, who designed the new Sandy Hook Elementary School. “However, two ongoing problems prevent local school officials from implementing these solutions: a lack of access to quality school design information and the ability to fund it.”
Brotman’s testimony follows a statement by the AIA that outlines the institute’s commitment to improving school design policies. Specifically, AIA is launching a bipartisan effort on Capitol Hill focusing on two main goals: 1) making architectural and design services for schools an allowable use of funds within existing federal funding and grants and 2) establishing a federal clearinghouse of resources on school design best practices for school officials, architects, and other design professionals to keep them informed.
During his testimony, Brotman detailed best practices that were incorporated into the new Sandy Hook Elementary School. Most notably, he explained that schools cannot be designed with a one-size-fits-all approach.
“Whether it’s a retrofit or new, each school must be designed for its unique student population, for its unique location, and to meet the needs of its unique community,” said Brotman. “The primary goal is to provide an inspiring, healthy environment that promotes learning. Security features, while vital and necessary, should be as invisible as possible and incorporated into the school’s design. Failing to do so puts children’s education, emotional development, and prosocial behavior at risk.”
Brotman detailed features of the new Sandy Hook Elementary School that create an open and welcoming design concept.
“There’s a rain garden with a sunken rock ‘river’ along the entire front of the school, creating a moat of sorts, that is clearly not friendly to cars or people. The design then has three small footbridges to cross the rain garden to enter the school, which also controls entry,” said Brotman. “The children are unaware about the security benefits provided by the rain garden — and they don’t need to know. This small but impactful example shows the value of taking a comprehensive, design-centered approach to school security. It is a highly specific answer to multiple physical and emotional considerations at once.”