What does it mean to design for equity? According to the National Equity Project, an organization dedicated to transforming “the experiences, outcomes, and life options” for children who are growing up in historically underserved communities, “it means every child receives what they need to develop to their full academic potential.” As architects, we are challenged to discern that need before we produce the first sketch for a new or renovated school; it’s one that changes with every project and every community where we work.
“Equity is an underlying concept before we even have a building program,” Perkins Eastman Associate Principal Ann Neeriemer says. “Teaching and learning should be for every student.” After holding several visioning sessions with students, staff, leadership, other community stakeholders, she explains, the design team helps establish a set of guiding principles to reflect these diverse viewpoints. Throughout the design and construction process, these design principles help to ensure that the needs and priorities of all stakeholders are being addressed. Adapting the design in response is important throughout every step – it’s not just something that happens at the beginning of a project. “We ideally want school communities to be designing with us, as collaborative partners in the process,” Neeriemer says.
In Washington, DC, for example, “Design teams have a lot of freedom to design in response to the unique needs of each community” for the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS), Neeriemer says. Ron Brown College Preparatory High School, an all-boys public high school in Washington, DC (pictured at top), opened in 2015 as part of a citywide school initiative called Empowering Males of Color. Among other design approaches outlined in our Insights blog, the school answered the call to nurture young men of color with “a space where they can actually respect each other and provide positive feedback to each other, and receive praise from their peers, receive praise from adults, to get used to actually giving and receiving that which is too few and far between for young men of their age,” Principal Benjamin Williams said. The renovated school features two “hearts”:
One wing has a soaring, double-height library to inspire achievement:
The other has Fraternity Hall, where students meet each morning for bonding and support: