by Emily Czarnecki
My entire career has been dedicated to the design of educational environments, and I’m always excited to think about how we can evolve our work and collaboration with school and building committees, facility managers, educators, and administrators. JCJ Architecture is currently designing a new high school in New Fairfield, Conn., where we’ve taken a new approach to the design for Furniture, Fixtures and Equipment (FF&E) that we think has exciting potential to build experiential consensus with more end users during the design process.
JCJ brings many tools to guide our clients through FF&E design. From visiting furniture showrooms, reviewing samples, and attending events like the annual EDSpaces conference, we work closely with stakeholders to evaluate a wide range of options. We guide decision making based on durability, function, and cost, while simultaneously considering how furniture selections can support the needs of all learners and contribute to creating dynamic spaces and places that are not just flexible and agile, but exciting and engaging.
When we began the FF&E process with New Fairfield, I was approached by KI Furniture about whether JCJ was interested in utilizing their “Traveling Classroom.” This program brings a full model classroom environment to a site for immersive testing. The New Fairfield team was excited about the idea, and the school’s principal, James D’Amico, immediately embraced the concept as a way to determine which furniture was best suited for the school. He decided to test the model classroom by inviting teachers and students into the evaluation and feedback process.
We quickly determined that we would use the KI model to create two additional learning environments with multiple manufacturers to compare a wider range of options. Each trial layout – set up in the media center for drop in or for full class settings – stayed in place for six weeks and included a variety of furniture types, including various height furniture, soft seating, and integrated technology. D’Amico stated, “Having students be involved in the design process was critical to making choices that not only fit into the aesthetic of our new facility, but to be sure that it supported our educational outcomes. Students were able to capture not only what the furniture piece did, but how it made them feel.”
The design team was surprised and thrilled by some of the feedback, including students’ enthusiasm for high top tables. Being able to stand while learning helped them feel more professional and collegiate. “By involving students in our decision-making process, we learned that choosing furniture was going to have a major impact on how students viewed the quality of their learning and would be an important part of their engagement in school,” said D’Amico.
Students are one of the most important end users, but are rarely involved in this part of the design process. The test environments provided a valuable framework to engage them and gave us the opportunity to gather specific impressions and preferences from both end user groups: teachers and students. It was a hugely rewarding and eye-opening process for everyone involved.
Emily Czarnecki, NCIDQ is senior associate, senior interior designer at JCJ Architecture.