Head of the Class

Classrooms are part of buildings with many other functions. They don’t exist in a vacuum. Their success depends not only on how well they are designed in themselves, but also on their integration into the building. The following case studies demonstrate the importance of surrounding state-of-the-art, learner-centered classrooms with support spaces that enhance teaching and learning. 

Cornell University School of Hotel Administration Beck Center Addition

For the School of Hotel Administration at Cornell University, KSS Architects designed an addition with four new case study rooms based on a learner-centered model. The school had outgrown its existing facilities and had only two classrooms suited to its business school model of academic instruction focused on case studies and cooperative learning. Circulation within the building was cramped, creating terrible bottlenecks when classes changed. 

The program given to KSS proposed connecting the new classrooms into the existing circulation with standard-width corridors. Based on experience, KSS proposed the addition of an atrium to the program to improve circulation and promote interaction. Because the existing circulation spaces were very tight, they did not foster chance interactions between students and faculty–anyone pausing for conversation would cause an immediate traffic jam. 

The first floor of the new atrium now provides ample space in the building for students to linger, study and debate. The design provides breakout spaces and group study rooms adjacent to the atrium on every floor, allowing students in all four of the classrooms to break into smaller sections while class is in session. The resulting lively and engaging environment supports the learner-centered design of the new classrooms. 

Kean University Center for Academic Success

Many academic buildings segregate classrooms and faculty offices vertically, placing classrooms on lower floors and faculty offices on the upper floors. While some faculty members may like the privacy offered by the arrangement, academic quality suffers since chance encounters among members of the academic community are less likely. To promote interaction between students and faculty, the Center for Academic Success at Kean University mixes offices and learner-centered classrooms on every floor. An atrium and a prominent stair adjacent to the main entrance encourage students to linger between classes and explore the entire building.

Many students at Kean are the first generation of their family to pursue post-secondary education and need additional, personal support to succeed academically. The Center includes a space where students can easily find and access assistance and guidance. The building’s organization and promotion of chance encounters with faculty members create an academic environment where students can thrive, and reinforce the notion that learning can extend beyond the classroom into a myriad of environments.