Von Humboldt Elementary School Classroom 101: A Plan for Change

Last summer LBBA partnered with Classroom 101 of Von Humboldt Elementary School to address issues they and many other classrooms face in their school. The partnership was started when entering into the Open Architecture Network Challenge: designing a new classroom. Our approach was to focus on upgrading a first grade classroom in an architecturally significant Chicago Public School building that was constructed around the turn of the century.

What we came up with was the result of 23 first graders, their teacher and a small group of architects deciding together what was needed. Through many in class discussions, list making, fun planning activities, presentations and helpful feedback we were able to translate these pieces of dialogue into a designed project.

The proposal aimed to create a “happy, healthy and safe classroom—a room like a house” and to also bring order to a classroom that is lacking in basic resources and amenities. Our plan emphasizes bringing a homey feel to the existing space and creating more order in the room by addressing some of the practical needs of teacher and students: storage space, display space and multi-usability/flexibility. To accomplish this, we have created three distinct zones within the class. A storage zone, a multi-purpose zone for flexibility and the activity zone which offers pods for reading, science and growing things. This provides built-in areas for localized storage, books, display surfaces and a computer nook and allows kids to form work areas around various interests.

One critical step to take in redesigning a classroom is to provide a healthy environment for everyone. Providing a healthy indoor air quality was a primary focus, especially considering that their classroom 101 has asthmatic students. Energy efficiency will be employed wherever possible and recycling will be encouraged through an educational recycling station for the class. The reuse of existing materials is integral in our sustainability and affordability approaches. The existing hardwood floor will be refinished and natural throw rugs and mats that can be rolled up and stored will be used for floor activities. Providing a “happy, healthy and safe space” for everyone is addressed by using happy and healthy materials. Natural materials and no-VOC finishes will be used throughout. Built-in furniture, storage and display areas will be constructed of no-formaldehyde MDF and reclaimed/recycled materials where possible. Additional natural materials such as cork, linoleum and natural fibers will be used throughout.

What also developed from the discussions was that there was an opportunity to bring interconnectedness of the classroom to the rest of the school and to the neighborhood—including parents, friends and local community. This proposal strives to foster these connections by including students, parents and neighbors in the implementation and construction phases of the project. In this way, community is created that links the students, classroom, school, parents and neighborhood in a holistic and sustainable network.

Check out our submission, we’d be interested to see what you think. See more photos below the jump.