September 2016—WASHINGTON D.C.—The American Architectural Foundation (AAF) released today their official report from the fourth National Summit on School Design in conjunction with the second annual White House Summit on Next Gen Schools. This report presents the findings from the summit held in Chicago, Ill on November 6-8, 2015 as part of the 75th anniversary of the Crow Island School in Winnetka, Ill: the site of the first national conference for school design in 1990.

“This is a dynamic and transformational period in American education. The way we think about education and learning is quickly evolving in schools and districts everywhere.  The old adage that form follows function has never been more relevant – if we are creating Next Generation Schools, we must also think about the design of learning space that supports new ways of teaching and learning,” said AAF President and CEO Ron Bogle. “AAF’s Design for Learning initiative works at the intersection of pedagogy, technology and space to work with teachers, students and education leaders to reimagine the school of the future and apply the tools of design thinking to create a new vision for American public education.”

AAF’s Design Summit was closely aligned to the first White House Summit on Next Generation High Schools, which was held in November of 2015. As a result, a special supplement on Next Gen High Schools is included in AAF’s report, which offers specific examples of how learning space that is creatively co-designed with educators and students results in exciting learning space that supports new ways of learning and teaching.

Delegates at AAF’s summit included teachers, students, architects, and other thought leaders. All agreed that a radical shift in thinking about the American high school as an institution is an imperative, and is already happening in districts across the nation. The delegates also strongly recommended that there is an urgent need not to focus on improving schools, but to create a new institution that is an expression of our contemporary culture, changing demography, and changing economy.  And if we are creating a new and more dynamic institution then we must also think differently about the learning space that supports new ways of learning and teaching.

The need to reimagine a new design for the places of learning comes at a time when school districts are only just now recovering from the economic impact of the Great Recession and beginning to respond to the pent-up demand for capital projects. In California, for example, voters will be asked to approve a $9 billion bond referendum this November including $3 billion for school modernization. In Colorado voters will be asked to approve nearly $4 billion in school bond issues.

Over the AAF Summit’s two days of discussions, delegates came to a clear recognition that architects and educators must continue to develop a common language—a concern first raised more than 25 years ago at the first National Summit in 1990.  Another key issue included recognizing that the movement away from a teacher-centric model of education to a more student-centered learning model has profound implications on how space is used and how, when and from whom students learn. There was strong agreement that much more needs to be done to add school design to the education reform dialogue.

“For many years I have been engaged in school turnaround and the design of learning pathways in K-12 schools and community colleges, and before this AAF conference it had not occurred to me to put an architect, who thinks about design in an entirely different way from me, on our team,” said former CEO of Jobs for the Future, and Summit delegate Gina Burkhardt. “Going forward, it makes a lot of sense to do just that.”

Delegates were also gravely concerned about the issue of equity and access in public education. Many high-poverty school districts lack the tax base to design new schools or modernize old ones, and most states offer little financial support to offset this ongoing inequity. The impact of the economic turmoil of the past few years has been severe on these school districts. Many high-poverty school districts need additional resources – and even different spaces—to address the unique and multiple challenges that their students face each school day.

Delegates also recognized that the emergence of more personalized and project-based learning, coupled with the growth of the Makerspace movement, would require new ways of thinking about how space is used to advance learning. There was a clear recognition that design must meet students where they are; that the connectivity of today’s students and their ability to learn inside and outside of school is a great opportunity to extend the learning environment. School as a place was still seen, however, as important for the social and emotional development of students.

A full copy of the report is available at:



About the American Architectural Foundation

Founded in 1943, the American Architectural Foundation is a national nonprofit organization that empowers decision-makers to use design to transform the built and natural environment. In 2013, AAF launched Design for Learning as a design leadership initiative to educate, support, and illuminate design’s potential in supporting innovative teaching and learning strategies.


About Design for Learning

Design for Learning builds upon AAF’s ten years of experience in school design, including developing the design for the award winning School of One in New York City which was cited by Time magazine as one of the “Top 50 Inventions” of 2009. AAF has convened three national summits in the last decade including the third  National Summit on School Design in 2005, a National Design Summit for STEM Education in 2010, and the National Green Schools Design Summit in 2012.

Most recently, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation invited the AAF in 2015 to provide design leadership for six school districts seeking to accelerate their efforts to design a more personalized learning environments for the 30 schools in their districts.

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Posted in: Center for the Advancement of Architecture, Design for Learning, Print
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