Back to School Again

Back to School Again:

If I were to write this installment of my #Architalks post from the perspective from my boys who as of today (the first day of school) are a 10th grader and an 8th grader respectively, this would be a short post filled with dread and despair, not sure that is the goal of the post or would make for good reading, but it is what we feel most time when we are faced with any “back to school” type situation, my middle child even asked my if I can play Taps on our way to school today. No, for this post we’ll use my nearly 9-year-old daughter and her (as we call it) sun-shiny attitude and perspective. She woke up today, as I mentioned the first day of school, with a very big smile on her face because she looks forward to the first day of school as a new year, as a new experience. To say the excitement she has towards the first day of school is nothing short than a musical (insert the opening scene of Grease 2) is a huge understatement. She say’s its an opportunity to meet new people and learn new things. It is really hard to be pessimistic around her because she always has a positive outlook, even when things aren’t always the best she still looks for the positive.

So, why not?

In the almost decade of working on educationally specific building types that “back to school” feeling means so much more to me. Sure in architecture we all spend our time on a project hoping from deadline to deadline and sometimes it becomes a blur that all runs together, and sometimes we lose track of time.  But, in working on educational projects we just the opposite.  We are always hyper aware of our schedules because that schedule revolves around the ever so tightly managed school year. Projects starts when the school year is over and (if all goes as plan) we complete construction when the school year starts (most likely the paint is still drying when the teachers arrive a week before the students). But, with this highly micro-managed project schedule this would typically be a time of great tension for both the user group (for me that is currently Washington University in St. Louis) and the design and construction group. Everyone on the team needs to be in complete unison when it comes to information and questions, nothing can be missed because win, lose or draw the school must open on time, which typically means substantially complete, have the project site returned to a safe environment and back in hands of the owner for student occupation. If there are questions or concerns that need to be addressed immediately the whole team needs to pounce because if I didn’t stress it enough the school WILL open on time NO MATTER WHAT.

This may sound a little more stressful than the sun shiny story you were promised (ok, maybe not all sunshine) BUT, where I am going with this is that even though (multi-phased multi-year) construction projects can feel stressful as you inch closer and closer to the start of the new school year.  You begin to have those same feelings my daughter has when it comes nearer to the start of a school year, your stomach may fill with butterflies, you may feel a little nervous and in many cases you may even feel like throwing up bit.  Oh, but the payoff for those nerve-wreaking nights of answering RFI’s, reviewing submittals and all around freaking out when you feel like the world is going to crash in on you is a phenomenal feeling.  So, a little trip down memory lane, do you remember that first time you walked through a completed building with an owner or one of the users and you can see the WOW welling up in their eyes?  Have you ever worked on a building that the students have been moved out of a less than stellar learning environment (aka a crappy hole of a building) and as you walk around wondering how any learning gets done here? Only to turn that building over and be there on the first day of school to see those students and teacher eyes fill with the WOW?  Oh, it is a tremendous feeling.  It is something I look forward to every start of the school year, and though I don’t get the summer break off to get that distance between me and the project. I can still end the summer with the wonderment of a school kid starting a new school year, excited to see a new environment with the new interactions of new children seeing the space for the first time, or the teacher maybe seeing a renovation with a fresh perspective. I still feel very much like its going back to school again.

Bryan Hall
Current Project: the renovation and addition to Bryan Hall at Washington University in St. Louis and Pedestrian Bridge Replacement.

As always in the spirit of the #Architalks please stop by the other great architects and designers post and give them all a read:

Enoch Sears – Business of Architecture (@businessofarch)
Back to school!

Bob Borson – Life of An Architect (@bobborson)
I Wish I were going Back to School

Matthew Stanfield – FiELD9: architecture (@FiELD9arch)
Designing Back to School

Marica McKeel – Studio MM (@ArchitectMM)
ArchiTalks: “Back To School”

Jeff Echols – Architect Of The Internet (@Jeff_Echols)
What Have We Learned? It’s Back To School For #ArchiTalks 21

Lee Calisti, AIA – Think Architect (@LeeCalisti)
good to go back to school

Mark R. LePage – EntreArchitect (@EntreArchitect)
Back to School: Marketing for Architects

Lora Teagarden – L² Design, LLC (@L2DesignLLC)
4 Tips As You Go Back To School

Michele Grace Hottel – Michele Grace Hottel, Architect(@mghottel)
#architalks 21 “back to school”

Brian Paletz – The Emerging Architect (@bpaletz)
Back to School

Michael LaValley – Evolving Architect (@archivalley)
#ArchiTalks / 15 Ways to Make the Most of Your Architectural Education

Eric Wittman – intern[life] (@rico_w)
getting [schooled] again

Sharon George – Architecture By George (@sharonraigeorge)
What’s better than architecture after school?

Jarod Hall – di’velept (@divelept)
Back to {Architecture} School

Keith Palma – Architect’s Trace (@cogitatedesign)

Adam Denais – Defragging Architecture (@DefragArch)
[ArchiTalks #21] 10 Things Architecture Students Say Going Back to School

Jim Mehaffey – Yeoman Architect (@jamesmehaffey)
Back to School? It Doesn’t Stop there for Architects.

Tim Ung – Journey of an Architect (@timothy_ung)
10 Things I wish I knew about Architecture School

Brady Ernst – Soapbox Architect (@bradyernstAIA)
Back to the Cartography Board


13 responses to “Back to School Again

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  8. Back to school night on a new k-12 school that I had a part in designing is one of the best experiences I have had as Architect. Totally worth the craziness over the last part of the summer.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Funny, I have yet to design a school that my own kids go to, I can only picture both the pride and terror that comes with. But I do remember the very first project after graduation was working as a staff member on an elementary school that my wife taught at. I laid out many of the primary and secondary classrooms and one of those lessons I learned about proper classroom layout (which evolves constantly) from one of my very first projects is something I carry with me daily, many many years later. One main lesson I learned (and not just because one of them is my wife) was to really listen to the teachers that are going to be in that room daily, how do they use it, what needs to be static, what needs to be flexible…and REALLY listen.

      So agree with you, the look on the faces of the kids and teachers is so worth much of the madness we go through to get a K-12 school pulled together.


  9. One of the great joys of my practice so far has been seeing the reaction to the new school that i designed (which opened today). While there is a sense of relief that i can move on an focus on other projects now, knowing the impact the facility will have on the teachers, staff, and students is very gratifying.


  10. Pingback: Back to the Cartography Board | soapbox architect·

  11. Cormac, it’s funny how much your story reflects my current situation. I started at a firm last year in June. Their work is mostly K-12. It’s unreal how much the school year affects EVERYTHING. But… It is very rewarding to see the faces of those you help.


  12. Pingback: I Wish I Were Going Back to School | Life of an Architect·

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