Safety First

AIA speaks on safe school design at the White House

Architecture East Education News Professional Practice
The AIA is promoting legislation that will help establish best practices for designing schools and educational facilities. (Courtesy Svigals+Partners)
The AIA is promoting legislation that will help establish best practices for designing schools and educational facilities. (Courtesy Svigals+Partners)

Earlier this week, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) announced its new initiative to advocate for improved school design policies. Yesterday a representative from the architectural organization met with senior White House cabinet members to discuss legislation that promotes the design of open learning environments that enhance security and safety.

Jay Brotman, AIA, the partner at Svigals+Partners who led the design of the new Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, spoke on behalf of the AIA in Washington. In his statement, Brotman presented best practices used for the school’s secure design and how his team collected input from the community, teachers, and students to address the most crucial needs.

“The desire to craft design strategies that mitigate the challenges schools face is an absolute priority,” he said. “As architects, we do this every day. However, two ongoing problems prevent local school officials from implementing these solutions: a lack of access to quality school-design information and the ability to fund them.”

An exterior photo of Sandy Hook school

On Thursday, leading school design architect, Jay Brotman, AIA, met with White House cabinet officials to speak on the importance of security in school design. Shown here: Sandy Hook Elementary School (Courtesy Svigals+Partners)

Part of the AIA’s goal is to assist the government in creating legislation that provides pathways for federally-funded architecture and design services and grants. They also want to establish a “federal clearinghouse” of resources detailing best practices for school officials, architects, and design professionals to stay updated on the latest research involving safe school design.

In front of the Federal Commission on School Safety, Brotman explained that a one-size-fits-all approach won’t work in designing these facilities.

“Whether it’s a retrofit or new school, each school must be designed for its unique student population, for its unique location, and to meet the needs of its unique community,” he said. “The primary goal is to provide an inspiring, health environment that promotes learning. Security features, while vital and necessary, should be as invisible as possible and incorporated into the school’s design. Failing to do so puts children’s education, emotional development and pro-social behavior at risk.”

An interior photo of Sandy Hook School

The AIA says that it is trying to step up and represent the architectural community’s authority on ending gun violence and ensuring safety in schools. (Courtesy Svigals+partners)

The AIA has yet to unveil any specific design prescriptions for school safety, but Brotman’s testimony is one step closer toward creating more awareness on the importance of safe education architecture.

Yesterday’s meeting isn’t the first instance this month in which the AIA has spoken out on the topic. RTA Architects principal Stuart Coppedge, FAIA, presented insights into the collaborative design and community evaluation process to the U.S. Department of Education’s Federal Commission on School Safety in early August while members of the AIA’s Committee on Architecture for Education (CAE) also gave recommendations for safe school design to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

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