Design for Education

We are witnessing an evolution in K-12 education. For decades, methods and curricula remained fairly consistent. Standard classroom typology provided a highly controlled setting for lessons in a disciplined environment, with schools designed to support this ethos. Such models still exist today, even with efforts to decouple aspects of traditional classrooms and support facilities with an aesthetic reinterpretation of spaces and buildings.


With society moving deeper into a knowledge-based and technology rich economy, debate about education is ongoing. Exploration of classrooms for today and tomorrow – fitted out with trendy furniture, writing surfaces, and technology – give students more flexibility. Smart devices and internet connectivity puts information at students’ fingertips. The classroom of today is less teacher focused and more about student-directed learning – offering the ability to navigate their own choices for learning in small groups or individually – with guidance from the teacher.


In response, we are designing dynamic learning spaces, repurposed libraries, and informal group spaces. Also, still amid a global pandemic, educators, administrators, and designers are grappling with ways to safely return children to a physical learning environment. Critical lessons learned through trial provide a better understanding of how to manage and keep students safe from contracting contagions within the school environment. Products and methodologies developed include enhanced air ventilation systems, specialty lighting, as well as opening up classrooms to well ventilated natural outdoor settings. In total, the reality has emerged that there is not a temporary fix. Rather, an evolution of learning spaces is occurring to ensure future-ready, safe, and secure schools for our students, teachers, and administrators.

Designing for the Future

Today, the alternate classroom is not a physical space or room. Communication between teachers and students is via a group chat. The bulk of assignments are digital. Work areas, libraries and research centers can be anywhere there is good internet connection. This has raised the challenge of keeping students focused and motivated, with many falling out of the system. If this continues, then what will the classroom be used for?


Studies have shown that students perform better and are more engaged when they have a choice of seating to suit their comfort level, facilitating work in different group sizes. This changes the need for a traditional desk-and-chair configuration. Designs and materials for floor and wall surfaces, tabletops, and finishes have created interactive learning tools. New teaching approaches have started to break down or blur the boundaries of what the typical classroom should look like and will challenge designers to continue to think out of the box. 

Career Options

With new career choices emerging, students need to be offered different skillsets to prepare for transitioning to higher education or certifications to prepare for life after 12th grade. Programs and partnerships are opening new opportunities for education and will continue to change how these skills are being taught in the classrooms.  Career Technology Education (CTE) and Early College Credits (Dual Enrolment) encourage High Schools to partner with Community Colleges to offer graduation with certifications for certain careers. Partnerships with private businesses also provide on-the-job training and certification during high school to better prepare students for the working world. Often these partnerships guarantee recruitment upon graduation.

Student Security

School security continues to be a major concern for school administrators and district police. We are seeing more sophisticated technologies and safety systems being implemented in schools to deter or reduce the risk of students and staff being confronted by an intruder. Safe zones where students and staff can shelter when there is an emergency are more common in today’s schools. Designers must be creative when considering how to improve security in outdoor activity spaces without compromising much needed recreational activities, as these places are often outside of the security zone. In a post pandemic world these areas now often double as outdoor classrooms, dining areas, and spaces for children to be together while mitigating against spread of disease.

The New Challenge for School Campus Design

Beginning with a master plan that responds to each school’s location, its culture, the phasing of its development, and its security zones – a solution to the modern dilemma for urban education might hint at a return to the historical block configuration of the classic colleges.

The master plan build out will need to achieve a secure perimeter during all phases of its development. Beginning at the outermost perimeter, the campus will be hardened through layers of deterrents to the most secure core where children and staff find shelter.

Designing for Education

ZCA’s Community Architecture Studio is a dedicated team of passionate individuals that together represent hundreds of millions of dollars in K-12 school design experience. We are ready to team with you to prepare your school for the future and our children to achieve their dreams.

Projects Featured in this Case Study

About the Author

Chris Bent, Intl. Assoc. AIA

Christopher Bent, International AIA, has more than 24 years of experience in architectural design, master planning, project management, construction programming, and procurement. He is highly skilled in managing project operations, meeting both the top- and bottom-line objectives. Christopher is recognized for his complete and effective communications skills, and for his outstanding track record of successful project delivery. Christopher has an impressive pedigree, extensive K-12 education project experience, and an unshakable dedication to community development. 

Chris Bent, AIA

Senior Associate

Senior Associate

Chris Bent