Impersonal Architecture Is Out, Home-Like Classroom Plans Are In

THE idea of making schools more like home is getting attention across the United States. A growing chorus of architects and educators is saying that cold, impersonal buildings can lead to a feeling of alienation among students.

The architects who designed Public School No. 5 in Manhattan hope to make children feel secure and as if they belong there. Courtyards, building entrances, and classrooms are designed to fit the scale of a child.

A school "is the first building that a child is going to confront, the first home outside of home," says George Luaces, an architect with the New York firm Gruzen Samton Steinglass.

When a child looks at P. S. 5, Mr. Luaces hopes that the student will see a collection of well-defined units rather than a forbidding expanse of brick and concrete. "... The classroom modules have the feeling of individuality, so the children can really relate and say `I go to the building on the right, you go to the building on the left,' " Mr. Luaces says.

Writing in New York School Boards magazine, Thomas Schickel, an architect with Fred H. Thomas Associates in Ithaca, N.Y., outlines a "house" plan of school organization. It involves "subdividing a school into smaller, discernible units that give students a clear and identifiable sense of place." His firm has planned both new schools and renovations using this theme.

The Edison Project, spearheaded by Chris Whittle (known for his Channel One in-school TV programming) intends to design and build year-round K-12 schools of 500 to 600 students to provide learning environments where "teachers might actually be freed up enough to spend an hour or more every week or so in one-on-one work with each student."

For some children, the school environment provides the most stable aspect of their lives. According to Rose Diamond, director of the Office of Strategic Planning, Division of School Facilities for New York City, new schools are being built in areas where "kids need more than 8:30 to 3 o'clock. They need structure and help."

The Childrens' Aid Society has joined forces with the New York City Board of Education to make the new facilities "18-hour schools" that are open seven days a week and host numerous after-school programs and clinics.

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