VMDO Architects transformed two mid-century school buildings into a modern learning campus for K-5 students with the aim to address the growing concern of student health and well being. By designing the school from a holistic perspective that includes the dining experience as an educational opportunity; the school cafeteria, kitchen, and servery have been reconsidered as an important educational experience while retaining the key food service functions. The enhanced programming includes a teaching kitchen, innovative food and nutritional displays, an open servery to promote demonstration cooking, a food lab – small group learning lounge, scratch bakery, dehydrating food composter, ample natural daylight, flexible seating arrangements, and outdoor student gardens.
The natural setting of the surrounding pine and oak forest habitat, watershed, and microclimates feature prominently throughout the architecture and active landscape. The design team worked collaboratively to create a total learning environment in order to support learning both inside and outside the traditional classroom. Each grade level enjoys age-appropriate outdoor gardens and play terraces, which encourage children to re-connect and spend time in their natural surroundings. Inside the schools, in addition to core classrooms, each grade level has small group learning spaces that transform circulation pathways into child-centric “learning streets.” These spaces are intimately scaled with soft seating and fun colors that communicate both collaborative and shared learning experiences.
To study the impact of these healthy design features, VMDO is teaming with public health researchers – Dr. Terry Huang from the University of Nebraska and Dr. Matthew Trowbridge from the University of Virginia – to study how health-promoting educational design strategies can support active communities and reduce incidence rates of childhood obesity. This design-research collaborative co-created “Healthy Eating Design Guidelines for School Architecture,” which provides new insight into how school environments can effectively promote healthy eating and movement. The impact of these guidelines is expected to improve schools’ ability to adopt healthy programming and overall support the well-being of healthy FoodSmart Kids®.