The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB).
Across the country, many institutions—especially educational facilities—have faced the challenges of reopening safely amid the COVID-19 pandemic and have had to rethink the design of their spaces. In response, The Bradley Projects (a Nashville-based architecture firm working in partnership with Bradley Development Group and Certified Construction Services) created a long-term initiative to move classes outdoors with pavilion structures for Nashville’s Linden Waldorf School. We spearheaded the design, development, and construction of this outdoor learning initiative to provide a safe space for students and improve their understanding of the surrounding environment.
The philosophy of architecture is about enhancing the quality of the space and designing for the experience that happens within. At The Bradley Projects, we believe the core of our work is creating boundary-pushing concepts to fuel the evolution of built environments, whether it be a residential development, commercial space, or in this case, a school. It’s about developing and defining a structure that’s progressive and moving to the human spirit, while pushing through constraints. While working on the Linden Waldorf School pavilions, we understood the value of designing with wellbeing and space-making in mind.
Designing for the Future
The pavilions at the Linden Waldorf School consist of forward-thinking spaces that empower teachers to advance their professional skills, and for students to continue to develop critical competencies through deeper learning. By gaining this outdoor learning experience in the pavilions, students at Linden Waldorf School are engaged, focused, and happy. These new pavilions support cognitive development and cutting-edge education for students of all ages, enabling them to draw their own conclusions through hands-on learning in the great outdoors.
When contemplating efficient, long-term design, it’s important to look at the project as a whole. For the pavilions at the Linden Waldorf School specifically, we were influenced by the school’s curriculum of outdoor activities, making sure the pavilions emphasized responsible stewardship for the environment through their design and ensuring better learning for the students. While this was a solution for an immediate problem, we made sure that the pavilions could be used year-round and would still have a purpose after the pandemic. When designing, strive to set the stage and tell a story—how are you developing the platform for a specific experience to happen? How can the space evolve and take on a different form in the future, to meet and cater to the new needs and demands of the users' experience?
Throughout this entire process, we made new discoveries related to sustainability for the Linden Waldorf School. Each pavilion features tree stump chairs, mulch flooring, hand-cleansing stations, and nearby portable sinks. The eight structures have roofs and partitions to block the reflection of the sun while providing open-air classrooms for the school’s 120 students in pre-K through 8th grade. The canopy overhead is built with a tongue-and-groove wood ceiling system that is both structural and beautiful to see when you look up. The wood structures allow students to reflect on topics like geometry, physics, and statics. By using natural wood materials and no electricity, the pavilions present the students with an immediate example of how to use resources found on the earth. Outdoor learning also presents unique health benefits, such as increased air ventilation, which dilutes airborne viruses and lowers the risk of infection.
In architecture, it is important to come up with innovative strategies in using natural resources and elements. Human development has a significant impact on the natural environment; using sustainable development practices in architecture has a large capacity to reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions while improving health, wellbeing, and quality of life within the space. By using sustainable development as a permanent solution in our designs, we present the opportunity to address current and future challenges.
Project Timelines & Management
Within just four weeks, we were able to complete the design, obtain the permits, and finish the outdoor pavilion structures for the Linden Waldorf School. While it seemed daunting at first, knowing we had a limited amount of time to complete our work forced us to productively think on our feet. We made sure to do smart space planning and master planning for the functions of the school and its entirety. For any project, especially those that have fast approaching deadlines and constraints, it is important to quickly identify project goals and timelines, ensuring you obtain high quality results in a short turnaround time. Stay the course and focus on what you do best. Clearly prioritize and define your goals, effectively delegate tasks to the right team members, avoid distractions, and be prepared for unexpected and urgent events while completing the project.
In the end, as an architect and designer, no matter the project, budget, or schedule, it is always important to ask, “How do we affect the user experience?”
Jared Bradley, AIA, NCARB, President and Founder of The Bradley Projects, The Bradley Development Group and Certified Construction Services, seeks to create boundary-pushing concepts that fuel the evolution of built environments. With over 20 years of experience, Bradley has grown to understand the value of designing with wellbeing and space-making in mind. The firm’s clean, modern, and crisp concepts celebrate their local community and showcase architecture as a true art form. His scope encompasses a mix of building types and uses, diverse housing and transportation options, transformation within existing neighborhoods, and community engagement.