When the Ransom Everglades School set out to augment its Miami high school campus with a new building focused on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, its educators saw an opportunity. They wanted to rethink how a physical space at the school could reflect the kind of future-focused learning that would happen there.
“We wanted something that wasn’t traditional,” says Penny Townsend, head of the school. “I wanted every space to be a learning space, that in every corner of the building something was going on.”
To the architects designing the project for this well-regarded private school, the job sounded a lot like work they do for another type of client: corporate America.
“You see Ideo and Google and Apple and American Express—a lot of our clients are creating these workplace environments for both research and enhancement of collisions and collaboration,” says Pat Bosch, principal and design director of the architecture firm Perkins & Will’s Miami studio. “It’s informality about, ‘Do I need a desk? Can I just find some soft seating and do my work there?'”
The building they’ve designed for the school’s campus could just as easily have fit onto a corporate campus. With a mix of tech-rich classrooms, maker spaces, and labs for courses in robotics, chemistry, and biology, the building’s core is a broad central hallway that was intended to provide spaces for social interactions and collaborative learning. The classrooms are flexible, with walls and large doors that can open to allow for different sizes and configurations, and every learning space has glass walls looking out on the central hallway—a design choice intended to embrace students’ fundamental curiosity, according to Bosch. “That curiosity can be mined and can be a source of inspiration and a source of propelling students to being engaged,” she says.
It’s a mix of learning spaces deeply influenced by the kinds of work environments in modern corporate offices, where some spaces are oriented toward team-based work while other spaces offer a hybrid of private areas for focused work and interactive zones to spark creativity.
Bosch says this comes directly from Perkins & Will’s corporate work but was also something that came up as a desire when the designs were first being developed. “There’s a lot of physical elements from corporate America that the students were very interested in. They wanted to learn in an environment similar to where they are eventually going to work,” she says.
As a building focused on STEM education, there’s also a heavy influence from research facilities. Bosch says the design drew directly from another Perkins & Will project, the L’Oréal Research and Innovation Center in Rio de Janeiro, where the beauty company develops and tests new products. “The scientists were telling us they needed to be able to reconfigure the space in less than 30 minutes. Everything was movable; everything was a plug-and-play condition,” she says. Bosch says the labs and classrooms at Ransom Everglades School were modeled on that flexibility. “We brought all those ideas that we developed and worked on with L’Oréal.”
The central hallway inside the building is meant to be a mixture of the collaborative spaces of the corporate world and the flexibility of the research world. For good measure, it’s even got a dash of the hospitality world, Bosch says. “You can lounge, you can have a meeting, you can have a conversation,” she says. “There are the social aspects of a lobby or a hub in hospitality that allows for this informal aspect of the social learning and even collaboration.”
And with its internal walls of transparent glass, this central hub also becomes a way to blur educational boundaries. “There’s such synergy between the different disciplines,” says school head Townsend. The glass walls also double as learning spaces. They’re all writable surfaces, and they’ve become integrated into the teaching and the students’ collaborative work. “They haven’t written anything filthy yet, so that’s been good,” Townsend says.
More important, she argues, is the new building’s focus on changing the dynamic between teacher and student and broadening the ways that learning happens. “You can’t have kids sitting in rows and some teacher at the front droning on,” she says. “It’s no longer ‘the sage on the stage’; it’s ‘the guide by the side,’ and that’s what’s going on.”
Completed in November, the 45,000-square-foot building and its large, flexible rooms have enabled the school to provide in-person learning during the pandemic, and Townsend says the variety of learning spaces within the building have already proven to be part of a new approach to teaching.
Bosch says the school has ended up being something of a combination of the most effective parts of other building types, especially the corporate office. It’s a blend, she says, that is helping redefine what schools can be. “In the intersection there’s invention,” says Bosch. “I like to approach projects where things are intersecting, ideas, prototypes, building types, building environments. That intersection yields new types of spaces that are for the next generation, that are future-ready.”