Todd Howard: Photo by Rasy Ran

Todd Howard: Photo by Rasy Ran

Schools are a specialty of Dallas-based th+a architecture firm, of which neighborhood resident Todd Howard is president. His firm is part of the pool of architects Dallas ISD engages to design bond projects, and recently th+a was chosen to create the new addition at Lakewood Elementary, a project initiated by the Lakewood Elementary Expansion Fund (LEEF) in 2013 and funded by the district’s bridge plan this past spring. We talked to Howard about the project, as well as educational shifts that are impacting school design.
• LEEF had engaged Good, Fulton and Farrell (principal Larry Good attended Lakewood Elementary) to do some master planning and figure out what was appropriate for the growth of the school. Good, Fulton and Farrell had taken a nice first pass at it and come up with a concept that worked, something that LEEF could then go to the district and say, “This is what we want to do.” Now that the bridge plan has been approved, we’re able to roll up our sleeves and think through what this building really wants to be.

• The LEEF folks liked our approach, like the work we do for schools. (We also designed the Hill Middle School addition and worked on the science wing at St. John’s Episcopal.) I think they were happy that we could be advocates for them with the district. Larry Janousek, the project manager, and myself are both East Dallas residents.

• My wife and I grew up in North Dallas and moved to East Dallas after we got married. We live in Lake Park Estates with a plethora of architects. The ranch-style homes from the ’50s are attractive to architects. They have good bones; you can renovate them, expand them and work with what’s already there.

• Twenty-first century classroom design understands the new curriculum coming into the classroom, how students learn and how their environment affects how they learn. Education is so much more interactive and collaborative in its approach, and you have to think about how to incorporate that into the design. Some people think it’s just drawing a classroom and putting desks in there, and it’s so much more than that. It’s no longer just the teacher interacting with the students; it’s the students interacting with the students, it’s the teacher interacting with the teacher. Maybe you have kids learning about Picasso in an art class, but then they go to history class and learn about the history of Picasso and the abstract art movement.

• So, in terms of the design, there are more open classrooms and natural light, which always enhances learning opportunities. We’re used to having hallways with lockers, but you can open up those areas so they are areas where kids can talk through ideas and concepts, mark on a whiteboard, and multiple classes can gather together at one time.

• It takes a while for these ideas to start to evolve and for us to be able to incorporate these ideas into the design of facilities because so much on the public school side is driven by standards that already exist.

• The Lakewood community is certainly engaged and involved, and has a keen interest in what happens with their facility. They are a pleasure to work with, and they just need more space for their kids. Their request was pretty simple — they just wanted a school that was appropriate for the number of students and for the education they wanted the students to receive. They also wanted a larger cafeteria to reduce the number of lunch periods. I mean, the kids ate from 10:30 in the morning to 2 in the afternoon. Kids don’t like to eat at 10:30 in the morning and then go to school until 3 in the afternoon. All of those things affect how kids learn.

• The existing two-story building has a great foundation, a great structural system to it — it has really good bones. We’re working with that building and we plan to place a two-story addition on the building as well. It’s going out and up. It allows their kids more flexibility in the classrooms, more collaborative areas, and best of all, we’re taking away those old modulars and portables.

• At the end of the day, they’re going to feel like they have a brand new school.
Interview was edited and condensed for brevity and clarity.

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