Future architects and engineers learn from the masters

Can great design be made accessible to all? This was but one of the many essential concepts discussed when Burr Elementary School’s 4th and 5th graders enjoyed a visit from the architects who designed their school, from internationally renowned architecture firm Skidmore, Owings and Merrill.

Chris McCready, architect, SOM director, and the project manager for Burr School, and Scott Duncan, architect and SOM director, and the senior designer for Burr School, treated students to an informative afternoon. Tracing the building’s design from initial concept and site planning, through design and construction — the architects held the students’ attention throughout.

Duncan, reflecting on the visit: “It was inspiring to sense such positive energy about the school’s design coming from the kids and teachers.” In the experience of Principal Jason Bluestein, Burr’s unique architecture also resonates with potential new families: “Every family who has been given a tour of our school has commented on how impressed they are with the physical look of the building.”

Students learned that the site itself can lend inspiration, as it did with the tree-filled property which became Burr’s home, as well as how the process can generate practical innovations to bring those ideas to life. Specially molded steel beams were created to construct interior courtyards that bring nature indoors, and allow for al fresco reading nooks. Motivated also by the desire to vary the traditional layout of a school, curvilinear passageways fill the space with light, allow for chance encounters, and the flow of the imagination, for students and staff alike.

As Duncan explained: “The building’s design concept – to bring nature to the day-to-day experience of the students – really works. The students, faculty, staff and parents have embraced that idea and have made it part of learning at Burr.” McCready agreed: “It is so rewarding to visit the school 10 years later and see that the building is still beautiful and how much the students and faculty appreciate being there.” A winner of numerous awards for its design, Burr School is constantly studied and held up as an example of great design ten years after opening its doors.

So how is it that the firm that built massive structures such as One World Trade Center (North America’s tallest building) and Burj Khalifa (the tallest building in the world), took on a relatively modest project in our neck of the woods? SOM sought the commission as part of its then new education studio, whose mission is to provide great design, while respecting the limits of municipal budgets, making leading edge design accessible to entire communities.

McCready: “During our talk it was so interesting to hear that everyone thought Burr was a more expensive school than others in Fairfield. This was not the case. Burr was built at the same time as McKinley School and was actually less expensive per square foot. Innovative design doesn’t need to cost more.”

Also highlighted in the presentation were examples of SOM’s recent projects. These included McCready’s award-winning design for the University Center at the New School in Manhattan, and Duncan’s stunning Pertamina Energy Tower in Jakarta, Indonesia, “the world’s first supertall tower for which energy is the primary design driver” as it generates its own wind power via a dramatic opening at the top of the 99 story skyscraper.

The students were very excited to learn about one of SOM’s newest schools, slated to open in Fall 2015: Staten Island’s P.S. 62 – the first “net zero energy” school in New York City and one of the first of its kind worldwide. McCready emphasized that the future of architecture and engineering is sustainability, and he issued a challenge to our future leaders to be bold innovators in this area.

Great design can and does inspire. Students saw that physical space can be a manifestation of a vibrant learning community. Interestingly, many students at Burr have expressed an interest in becoming architects. The robust Q&A session with dozens of queries from the students underscores the hope that a whole new generation of visionary engineers and architects will trace the seeds of their future calling to their days in the light filled, meandering corridors of Burr Elementary School.

Burr Elementary School students with architects Chris McCready and Scott Duncan, of leading architecture firm Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, who designed their school. Students enjoyed a presentation and Q&A with these engineering and design experts.

Burr Elementary School students with architects Chris McCready and Scott Duncan, of leading architecture firm Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, who designed their school. Students enjoyed a presentation and Q&A with these engineering and design experts.

About author

By participating in the comments section of this site you are agreeing to our Privacy Policy and User Agreement

© HAN Network. All rights reserved. Fairfield Sun, 1000 Bridgeport Avenue, Shelton, CT 06484

Designed by WPSHOWER

Powered by WordPress