What Makes a Building Special?

On August 29, 2016, I had the honor of speaking at Grand Opening for the new Charles City Middle School in Charles City, Iowa. Actually, the honor started in July of 2013 when I became the project architect for the new school, but that’s not the point.img_0104

For my two minutes of fame, I decided to talk about what made this building special.  It wasn’t easy to condense three years into two minutes, but here is what I came up with:

“FIRST, this building was designed by the users of the building and it is based on the mission that the new Middle School will provide an environment in which students, teachers and staff can achieve their maximum potential. Every decision, selection and revision was made with this end in mind and to meet the needs of every student.

SECOND, this building is filled with engaging, dynamic, inspiring spaces conceived and tested by students. We met with hundreds of Charles City students in middle school and high school to ask them what they wanted, how they like to learn, and what kind of spaces they felt good in.

THIRD, this school is unique and original. There is no other school like this in the country. It was designed and built to support the needs of this specific community. We met with, talked to, and spent time with this community through the entire design and construction process over the last 3+ years. This truly is a future focused school, both in the built environment and in the curriculum.  Your commitment to forward thinking education practices never wavered and you have set the bar very high for the rest of the country.”

One of the things I love about my job is that I get to talk to and listen to all kinds of people. I especially love kids! They are so interesting and insightful. The younger they are, the fewer limits they see. As designers, we have to put aside conventional ideas and remind ourselves it’s ok to be innovative and different. Kids give us plenty of opportunities to be creative. They also give us plenty of ideas on how to make buildings special. We just have to listen to them!

This school project has made it clear that the best design solutions come from the users, no matter how old they are. I can’t wait for the next project to hear the creative and ambitious ideas from those users.

If you’d like more information on the Charles City Middle School, check out our project pages.

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