Architecture Program



Jean A. Vacha

Date of this Version

May 2006

Document Type



M. Arch. Thesis, University of Nebraska - Lincoln, May 2006.


My desire is to focus my sixth year project on a primary educational facility. Over the past five years, I have spent countless hours engaged in the child’s environment. I have volunteered in an after school program at Elliot Elementary, refereed YMCA basketball games, co-lead a bible study for junior high students, and spent two summers as a day camp counselor working with elementary students. Though my past experiences have influenced my thesis decision, it is my interest in exploring how architecture is perceived by the youngest of users that has had the greatest impact on my decision.

Spending one sixth of their life or approximately 13 years inside a classroom, students need an environment that will inspire, stimulate, and encourage learning. Over the past one hundred years, few changes have emerged with regard to elementary school design. The Learning Environments Campaign Prospectus by the British Design Council presented images depicting the minimal changes that have occurred in the British School system from the early twentieth century to the beginning of the twenty-first. Schools still embody the notion that a classroom is a holding cell for children as they learn, rather than a creative environment for stimulating the learning process. Improving the quality of the classroom is not only about improving the built environment, but also about bettering student performance and behavior. “The need is to think of a school less as a building and more as a community of individuals sharing learning experiences and activities,” (Building Futures).

Exploring the community aspect of school design, Inspiring Minds is a project dedicated to understanding how an elementary school design can foster community among the students, parents, teachers, and society. The initial focus is to examine research regarding current and evolving trends in community-based learning. The notion of community, however, does stop at the classroom, but will be a design effort to engage the surrounding neighborhoods in the celebration of learning through both supplemental recreational and educational amenities located near and in the school. The aim is to create an environment that residents can use throughout the year and beyond normal school hours. The school will be a community of students in the building and a center of community for the neighborhood.

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