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Construction & Design

New school illustrates power of design for education

If STEAM education is about integrating science, technology, engineering, the arts and mathematics into a project-based learning environment, shouldn’t school buildings for these specialized studies mirror the same foundations?

The architecture, art and advisory firm Svigals + Partners has arrived at an answer this year, completing the innovative Engineering and Science University Magnet School (ESUMS) in West Haven, Conn.

Accommodating grades 6-12, the modern school integrates artwork and experiential, didactic building concepts on the inspiring grounds of a private university.

Spanning about 122,000 s/f in five stories, the learning environments are housed behind cantilevered glass facades and feature novel amenities and design elements specifically geared toward the ESUMS curriculum.

“STEAM education intertwines both scientific and artistic mindsets, promoting the kind of 21st-century skills that students need: discipline, flexible thinking, risk-taking and creative problem-solving,” said Jay Brotman, AIA, managing partner for Svigals+Partners.
At ESUMS, student and teacher collaborations are supported by architecture, beginning with flexible classroom designs. Glass partitions open up to hallway learning spaces that widen on each end, where ESUMS students read or coordinate on cushy chairs and couches.

Two unique features of the Svigals + Partners design include long, cantilevered wings suggesting train cars, and their highly insulating facades with louvered blinds to control interior heating — examples of the school building’s design concepts that remind students about such scientific notions as mass, stress, gravity and conductance.

“The building also includes a range of maker-spaces that allow students to create models and other objects from their studies using 3-D printers and special software,” said Julia McFadden, AIA, an associate principal with Svigals+Partners and an expert in K-12 STEM.
“In addition to its own amenities, the school is affiliated with the University of New Haven and located on their campus, bringing them access to more resources and study tools.”

Brotman and McFadden emphasize that the $58 million school represents a new breed of educational facility where architecture, art, technology and science curriculum merge to facilitate better student outcomes.

The two architects led a highly collaborative planning process with involvement from its owner the city of New Haven, the host city of West Haven, and the University of New Haven, a partner in the project.

Other recent K-12 schools designed by the Svigals+Partners team include the Columbus Family Academy in New Haven and the Sandy Hook School in Newtown, Conn., which have been widely recognized for innovative approaches to specific K-12 needs.

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