Rethinking High School


By Robert Sawyer, Architect



The XQ institute is committing to aid 5 teams to develop a new high school. A super school. A school, we hope, drafted with new ideas. Not just one that has technological idealism. One that has adopted real architectural innovation.  Architectural innovation is not LEED Green either. It’s so much more than that. Colors and materials. Neutrality, syncopation, rhythm and all of those things that could never be catalogued. Organics, and not just sustainable plywood.

XQ Teams are formed at the root level, then as things progress in your design, videos, spreadsheets and other media may be developed and uploaded. It is a very interactive and well-designed experience. The colors are bright. This is definitely not lightweight or boring. You can download the entire educational series called Knowledge Modules in PDF. I did and there are a lot of great buried links. I have to say that the modules are a very resourceful cadre of articles and videos which are well formatted. I even have my mac reading to me several times during a session. Mainly because the outer linked files are from places like the WSJ or network which has small text sizes which are harder (for me) to read.

It would be great when the show is over if the knowledge modules could be kept up for future reference online for those who didn’t notice the “download-all key.”

Where are we now? Well, I’m pretty sure as architects we all will have bright ideas. I’m just not sure where to put them. I mean, we can subscribe to the latest theory on light and elevation, but who is really going to listen? It appears that architecture today relies less on innovation and more on a checklist of LEED credentials. Of course art abounds in architecture. Some would say that is what it’s all about. I’d say it’s more than that even. It’s about finding the critical thinking ahead of the curve. Looking for trouble spots down the road. Electrical issues. Mechanical and plumbing issues. Just as educational issues are being challenged, XQ gives an opportunity to look beyond the curve, to adjust and throw the perfect pitch of resonance not just for politics or philanthropy but for justice. Those hard wooden chairs really sucked, remember?


Concepts such as time, class, groupings, paired order, evaluations, skill set, positive reinforcement, and motivation are at the core of development issues within the XQ. What other issues are out there which are as-yet undefined? I think the future will hold inter-disciplinarian approaches. Imagine a future where your plumber may also be your painter. Not too hard to imagine, now imagine that your carpenter is also a movie star, or that your flooring contractor is an architect (I was) and /or you hired a consultant for your web-site, and that person just so happens to be the best photographer you will ever know. The list goes on and on. If you believe the aforementioned has any truth to it try the next level. What if your architect was also an astronaut? Commander of the Space Shuttle? Maybe. Maybe not!

So, why can’t an electrical engineer also become a fighter pilot? What would stop that person from then becoming an architect? There are no limitations to vocations in the future. Beyond inter-disciplinarian approaches there are the digital realms and the physical ones. As architects it’s our job to think in terms of the physical space. The future of anything such as a school needs to be challenged in the physical sense, as well as the digital.

What types of finishes are required? Low VOC? Yes, comfort, sure. How about classes outside? Classes that aren’t classes at all? Could you think of a way to create a learning environment that isn’t classical at all? How about touch cubes, screens of information that correlate information about an item with a photograph like Bruce Carroll is doing in Belize?

About six months ago I received a tweet about a project to design the next American High School from the ground up. Immediately, I thought about the Learning Tree concept my firm began working on in early 2014. It’s a kind of tree that has your friends as leaves, and the roots are all of your relatives and friends’ relatives. All of the roots are of course intertwined. What we don’t see above ground is how we all are created from the ground up. What the learning tree aims to do is record the habadasherie of life such that now, or in the future, you may be able to distinguish yourself in ways that others can participate in. A school, for example, would be the ideal roll-out for such a site. An opportunity to give the students with challenging environments, a grounded permanent educational connectivity source. Albeit one that wears the face of change such that growth can occur, and continues through High School into college and beyond.














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