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If you have been following our blog postings, you’ve noted our commitment to Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) programs, and the pride we’ve shared with the Cherry Creek School District (CCSD) and other project team members in bringing their award winning Institute of Science & Technology (IST) to life.  Now that the school is open, we’ve been pleased to support the interest of the education and design community with presentations and tours of the facility.  Toward the end of last year, IST hosted the USGBC’s Emerging Green Builders for a presentation and tour.  The design of high performance STEM schools is about more than just the building.  At this event, we were able to present the collaborative program and concept development we shared with the CCSD, school administrators, teachers, and the local community.  This process led to the development of a facility that is not just energy efficient, but also inspiring, specific, and adaptable to the curriculum needs of IST’s STEM program.

After the presentation, the USGBC members were given a tour of the facility to see how daylighting strategies were integrated into the classroom; the unique learning opportunities that are an integral part of the facility (including the basement mechanical room that was detailed to provide an educational opportunity for students); and the laboratory classrooms that support advanced learning.  These include a physics lab with ceiling-mounted hangers and tracks for advanced experiments; an avionics lab with flight simulators; a robotics lab; and chemistry/biology labs with lecture and experiment-based learning stations.  The tour also included the collaborative teacher lounge that is now in demand from other teachers on the Overland Campus.  Others that have toured the facility include: the Council for Educational Facility Planners International (CEFPI), the Chinese Mayoral Delegation, various parent groups, and other local school districts.

In our earlier posting on the Kent Denver School, you will also find that we work hard to integrate learning into the physical structure of many of our schools.  IST was another opportunity to do so.  In addition to an active daylight tracking device that provides both light in the main stairwell as well as opportunities for experiment, there is an LED starfield of the north sky in the lobby, latitude and longitude markers integrated into the floor throughout the building, and outdoor plazas based on mathematical concepts such as the Fibonacci sequence.

IST is an excellent example of the possibilities of collaboration. On February 28,2012  we have an exciting tour and information session planned as part of the upcoming Green Schools National Conference in Denver.   Additionally, if your district, school, or professional group is interested in touring this facility at another time, please contact us and we’d be honored to assist you.

By Alan Doggett

Links to other STEM/IST posts from HAS:   STEM for All, IST Wins Peak Award, Kent Denver Science Sun Path, STEM Education- January 2011, Dr. Gubser Speaks

More than a decade ago, we designed the Astrometric Lab at the Gates Science & Technology Center at Kent Denver School in Cherry Hills Village, Colorado.  The name of the space was coined by our friend David Potter, a retired Physics teacher from the school.  The space fulfilled a dream I had nurtured since I was 14 years old when I visited Stonehenge for the first time.  During that visit I learned that Stonehenge was not just an ancient temple, but a precise astronomical instrument.  Contrary to popular mythology it has nothing to do with Druids, although they still like to celebrate there, but was built to mark critical calendar dates such as the summer solstice.

Being there all those years ago, touching the stones, and seeing those alignments had a profound impact on me.  Ever since I had wanted to create a large scale piece of architecture that would provide a similar sense of wonder at our ability to understand celestial mechanics and to connect them with human scale.  Early in the design of the Kent Denver School Science and Technology Center, it occurred to me that this project offered just such an opportunity.  I realized that we needed a signature entrance element, and that it could easily be shaped as a large cylinder.  I soon began to think of that entrance as an inside-out Stonehenge.

I showed a few early sketches of the concept to David, and he quickly suggested improvements to the design.  He also realized that we could implement analemmas – the figure eight shape the sun’s path takes in the sky – to achieve a stunning level of accuracy for the time keeping aspect of the design.  We continued to collaborate on the piece and achieved the desired goal, despite serious obstacles during construction.

The height of the walls of the cylinder are dimensioned to allow the sun at noon to be visible at all times the sun is shining, appearing to touch the bottom of the wall at the summer solstice and to touch the top of the wall at the winter solstice.  Lines on the walls show the track of the sun at one month increments between the solstices.  Analemmas trace the sun’s path at one hour increments from day to day.  All of this may sound complicated, but the beauty of the space is that once it is experienced, the geometry is self explanatory.

Please take a look at the time lapse video of the space taken on a clear vernal equinox day, and you’ll see for yourself!

A portion of one of four murals at the IST designed by Noble Erickson in collaboration with Hutton Architecture Studio.

Hutton Architecture Studio is emerging as a leader in the incorporation of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) programs into schools.  Evidence shows that schools that incorporate STEM into their curriculum are a powerful tool for producing graduates with a deep knowledge and passion for science and math that translates into higher college graduation rates.

In order for our American students to keep up with the rest of the world in science and technology we need to reinvent how we teach these subjects.  In an existing school, these learning spaces and the activities within them should be visible to all students, rather than concealed.  Science room design should also take advantage of recent studies and provide adequate space for modern experimental techniques while maintaining safety.

We have been fortunate to design a few STEM school projects.  Our latest one, the Institute of Science and Technology for the Cherry Creek School District, is of special interest to me due to the incorporation of four large murals visually depicting the history of science.

I have long believed that one of the failures in K-12 science education is the depersonalization of science as a field of study.  In literature, fine art, or history it is inconceivable to me that students would learn those disciplines without also learning about the great artists and historical figures who made them possible.  Yet, because we like to think that science is completely objective, we tend to present science as an abstract discipline apart from the individuals who participated in its development.  In the process of removing actual people from the courses of study, we have made science boring.

The idea for the murals at the IST actually started with the District’s description of it as the future “MIT of the Rockies”.  Having spent a fair amount of time on the MIT campus, I vividly recalled the older buildings there with the names of science greats chiseled onto them.  I thought we should do the same inside our building, with the invitation that someday the names of a few IST graduates might find their way into this distinguished assembly.

When I first proposed the concept to Cherry Creek’s Director at IST, Richard Charles, I had no idea how far we would collectively go with it.  Now that we are poised to implement it, I am amazed at the collaborative process that transformed the static collection of a few names into a visually rich and intellectually stimulating series of four murals.  Each of the murals is 113′-8″ long and four feet tall, has a dominant theme, whether Biology, Chemistry, Physics, or Technology, and is related to the labs surrounding it.

We sincerely hope the murals will change how students and faculty alike view science: not as a deterministic and unemotional field, but rather as one of the greatest achievements of human thought, endeavor, and dedication.  Please visit our website for a glimpse!