Schools Buildings as Three-dimensional Textbooks: The Contributions of Sustainable Learning Environments to Educating the Next Generation

By Ulrike Altenmüller-Lewis.

Published by The International Journal of Sustainability Education

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Altogether close to 60 million students, pedagogues, and educational staff spend large parts of their days in more than 120,000 school buildings across the USA. Many of these buildings are not in an appropriate condition to provide an inspiring and positive learning and work environment for their users. Most of them are also not very sustainable. Too many of them are outdated in design and equipment, crowded, in desperate need of repair, and slowly degrading. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, primary and secondary school enrollment will grow between 6% and 9% until the year 2014. This will result in increased expenditure on the construction of new schoolhouses and raised costs for school renovation and maintenance. An annual construction volume of up to US$ 35 billion is expected. For many communities and school districts, a careful revisiting of their master plans for educational development is necessary in order to ensure that often limited resources are spent in the most sustainable and effective way. By just considering some basic principles of green design, a school can lower the annual operating costs for utilities considerably: Correct orientation of the building on the site helps to prevent overheating in summer and might generate heat gain in winter. Providing an abundance of natural day lighting with suitable glazing can lower the consumption of electric power by up to 50 %. Natural ventilation throughout the building and the provision of operable windows give the immediate users more control over their working environment while cutting energy use. The use of water saving fixtures and the collection of rain water and gray water for certain applications help to lower the fresh water consumption while creating environmental awareness. A well designed school can be a lot more than a place for learning but functions as a three dimensional textbook that introduces children at an early age to the practice and value of environmental awareness and stewardship. This paper will introduce several school projects where sustainable features were included as a comprehensive learning tool as part of the school architecture and landscaping. By teaching the next generation good citizenship and awareness for the natural environment, these buildings can be catalysts for a more sustainable future.

Keywords: Educational Facilities, Schools, School Buildings, Environmental Education, Sustainable Infrastructure

The International Journal of Sustainability Education, Volume 9, Issue 2, pp.51-59. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 409.596KB).

Dr. Ulrike Altenmüller-Lewis

Assistant Professor and Architecture Program Director, Department of Architecture + Interiors, Drexel University, Philadelphia, PA, USA

Ulrike Altenmueller-Lewis is Assistant Professor and Director of the Architecture Program at the Antoinette Westphal College of Media Arts & Design. Prior to her position at Drexel University, she has taught at the Bauhaus-Universität Weimar in Germany and at the Washington Alexandria Architecture Center of Virginia Tech. Ulrike is a registered architect with the Architektenkammer Baden-Württemberg, Germany and the State of New York. She has practiced in Germany as well as in the USA, where she has been working with RTKL Associates in Washington DC and Alfredo De Vido in New York City. Ulrike holds a Diploma in Architecture and a Doctorate from the Bauhaus-Universität Weimar, Germany. She has also studied architecture at the Escuela Superior de Arquitectura de Madrid, Spain and in Rome, Italy. In her research, Ulrike focuses on school architecture and the impact of the built environment on human wellbeing and performance. Recently she was invited to present her findings on contemporary Finnish school buildings in several international conferences.