Speakers: Alex Pitkin, Senior Vice President and Director of Institutional Practice Groups, SMMA
Lorraine Finnegan, AIA, Principal and Director K-12 Studio at SMMA
Philip Poinelli, FAIA, ALEP, Principal and Educational Planner in the K-12 Studio at SMMA
Brian Postlewaite, PE, Civil Engineer at SMMA and A.C.E. Boston Board member
Andy Oldeman, PE, Director of Engineering and HVAC Engineer at SMMA
Scarce physical resources, limited land options, skyrocketing new building costs and taxpayer fatigue all influence and contribute to the challenge of re-using existing public school structures, especially those designed in the modernist era of the 1960s and 1970s. Can unloved buildings from this era—a very particular and rather awkward moment in design history—be re-imagined to cultivate 21st Century educational skills? Through intensive alternatives planning involving educators, and SMMA’s multi-disciplinary in-house design team, we illustrate the cost effective re-programming, design and engineering of three 1960s vintage schools. More importantly, we show how we have transformed the way 21st Century educational skills manifest themselves within each project. During the depths of the Great Recession, SMMA was awarded three complicated school projects in three very diverse communities to evaluate for reuse. Our integrated team of designers included not only educational Planners and Architects but also the full range of in-house engineering disciplines, allowing for a process of exploring multiple alternatives to achieve consensus and clarity when answering the question of “when to save” a building. The new reality and complexity of stricter codes for universal access, seismic hardening, and critically—energy efficiency, safety and security attitudes and measures—are all best explored by a multi-disciplinary team with deep specific knowledge working in proximity to quickly analyze and resolve subtle differences among options. Five years ago SMMA began the exploration of designing in multi-disciplinary studio teams breaking down the traditional A/E structure of our field of practices within our office – we realized our planning discussions with educators and administrators rang hollow if we ourselves were not a true example of cross disciplinary planning and learning. Each renovation project was an opportunity to reach students with a real life “laboratory” for learning and SMMA’s team reached out wherever possible to the administrators and educators of each school to explore curricular connections through in-class lecturing and/or field observations. The possibility of turning a negative (noisy, dirty) experience into a positive —perhaps even career-path altering—educational moment is profound. As just one example of bringing students themselves into the design conversation, today SMMA’s professionals run an in-house intensive 12 week A.C.E. (Architecture, Construction, Engineering) program for a local charter high school exploring a building design problem as a model for career exploration.
- Educational Planning: Layering 21st Century skills over core academics requires different learning environments from those original to the older existing buildings, requiring reinvention and transformation.
- Design: Planning alternatives – using an approach that seeks multiple options for a client, from code-only solutions to tear-down and rebuild scenarios, we must be comprehensive and accurate, very early in the feasibility study process.
- Impacts of changing codes: Energy conservation and sustainable design; and engineering systems on reuse analysis.
- Student Mentoring: SMMA’s office is the Boston A.C.E. (a national organization and mentoring program for select high schools and administered by Wentworth Institute of Technology in Boston) home base for exploring the design process and exposing and facilitating students through the various career disciplines – uniquely housed under one firm’s roof.