Homicide investigations in science class, human anatomy reconstruction in breakout space, and robot builds that go for a spin in the halls are an everyday occurrence for students at Francis Tuttle Technology Center’s Danforth Campus in Edmond, Oklahoma. The 155,000-sq.-ft., pioneering facility houses collaborative spaces and labs to support a range of interactive career training and college prep courses for engineering, biosciences and medicine, computer science, pre-nursing, cosmetology, automotive service technology, and interactive media.
Here are the movements that drove the project.
The Power of Choice
Making this into a school of the future took time and research on behalf of Deputy Superintendent Jaared Scott, who challenged the team at Oklahoma City, OK architecture and design firm Bockus Payne to craft a timeless design—with a wow factor, of course.
“What we found is that when students have open areas, well-lit areas, areas where they can be flexible, the furniture can be flexible or the orientation can change and not be stationary; learners are more apt to be in a creative mindset and want to collaborate,” said Francis Tuttle Director Khaaliq Salim.
Chris Cleburn, partner and architect for Bockus Payne, said, “Architecturally, we wanted this building to have one voice. You wouldn’t think that you are walking into a high school. When you walk downstairs to the academies, the feel is more collegiate and professional.”
Thankfully, workforce trends are now spilling over into the education market. “From my 20-plus years as an educator, there wasn’t a lot of talk about comfortable seating and the different types of seating and other things that are really important for the whole self, the whole body and the whole student,” explained Salim. Besides seating options, schools are now honing in on flexible desking, variations in conference rooms and private areas outfitted with technology that brings together in-person and remote teammates, as well as biophilic design principles to connect people with nature and an awareness of their own wellbeing. This results in students that have control of their learning, and can make choices that best suit their academic needs.
“What we saw prior to COVID, and further emphasized during and after COVID, is schools investing in a wider range of spaces,” said Sarah Day, regional education manager for Steelcase Learning. “Some of the things the Danforth Campus has done really well is to have not just classrooms, but thoughtful in-between spaces for those spontaneous moments where a student might be sitting at a bench or café height table and see a friend and connect.” Creativity was sparked by the use of traditionally corporate-style furniture that made each space more fluid and less like the static classroom desks and chairs. Students can also transition from furniture shaped like a question mark to a learning pod space, ensuring every type of learner can engage in an area that feels comfortable. Some of the academies feature couches adjacent to whiteboards, allowing students to work on projects together and out in the open, as well as breakout rooms for small groups and individual study.
“We talk about creativity and that is such a buzzword–I love it,” Salim said. “If you have furniture that’s cool, it’s funky, it’s techy, I think it really speaks to their language. It matches what you want to get out of me as a student and it needs to be thinking outside of the box, and this place or this furniture matches it—” which also exudes the schools focus on entrepreneurship.
Another trend reflected in the campus is the flexibility of learning modes to allow for remote learning and collaboration spaces outside the classroom. “Teachers from the academies regularly move their students out into the rotunda and on the step seating area,” said Cleburn. “Hosting a class outside of the classroom and being able to break out of those spaces ensures that students are not in one space the whole time. They are taking advantage of the serendipitous spaces we provided that are outside of the classroom.”
Classrooms and labs are equipped with high-tech systems, from interactive flat panels and touch panels to televisions and integrated audio and video controls for administrators to notify staff and students via paging announcements and video, seamlessly.
Daylighting was also emphasized with the use of clerestory windows in the vestibule and lobby. Even in classrooms without windows, the light penetrates the adjacent spaces. The high-efficiency glass reduces the amount of heat gain or loss throughout the year. Off-the-shelf daylight harvesting sensors were installed in key public areas to dim the artificial lights accordingly. Occupancy sensors were installed in every room to turn the lights off when spaces are not being utilized to reduce energy consumption.
Floating acoustical ceilings and wall panels as well as adjustable lighting were installed throughout the technology center to reduce noise and set the mood. Cleburn noted how noticeably the acoustic CMU reduces the noise within the automotive shop, which is typically a loud environment. “Even in the shop, a space that is traditionally loud and boomy, we used acoustical concrete block in combination with the roof and floor deck, [which] really reduced overall noise.”
Finally, the use of vinyl graphics and quotes related to each academy seeks to establish the mindset for students as they interact within the space. But all these elements come together to do their part to push the boundaries of Francis Tuttle’s Danforth Campus, allowing the design industry to align educational spaces with the evolving workforce so educators can prepare the learners of today to become the leaders of tomorrow.