ARCHITECTURE FOR LEARNING
Multipurpose building, Feather River Academy, Yuba City, California, by Anthony Poon (w/ A4E, photo by Gregory Blore)
Certainly, Poon Design has designed luxury estates for A-listers, Michelin-rated restaurants, and hospitality projects for cities like Beverly Hills.
Moreover, Poon Design thrives for a greater good. We embrace our opportunities for a higher social purpose, where vital agendas advance the lives of individuals and their communities. Of all our project types, we find ourselves grounded when designing educational buildings and campuses.
The school is one of the most influential works of architecture. Whether for a child, teenager, young adult or lifelong learner, architecture for knowledge substantiates one’s existence. Poon Design’s solutions promote curiosity, embrace social interaction, and inspire leadership, whether it is for an elementary school, student union or university library.
I have been fortunate, having designed over 50 educational projects. Focusing on young students, the four schools below tell my story of designing for Pre-K to 12th grade. (Future posts will discuss my work for higher education.)
BEL AIR PRESBYTERIAN PRESCHOOL, Los Angeles, California
As the first structured environment a child experiences, a preschool serves as both an introduction to the world and one’s first civic duty. At 23,000 square feet perched high in the Santa Monica Mountains, our “Village of Discovery” is ambitious: 120 students, 11 classrooms, 5 play yards, 3 pavilions for library/music/art, multipurpose hall, and administration building.
Poon Design’s vision delivers a community of small scaled, cedar buildings with large sheltering overhangs. Features include bamboo classroom flooring, butterfly and hummingbird gardens, and an amphitheater.
GREENMAN ELEMENTARY SCHOOL, West Aurora, Illinois
This 63,000-square foot school finds innovative ways for the performing arts to flourish. The extra-wide staircase doubles as audience seating for impromptu performances. Second story balconies overlook double height spaces. Window compositions express rhythm and harmony. The 700 students are arranged in seven Small Learning Communities, alongside facilities for students of Aurora University—for hands-on, in-classroom training of future teachers.
HERGET MIDDLE SCHOOL, West Aurora, Illinois
With the metaphor of the American heartland, our 113,000-square foot school for 850 students sits as a heroic farmhouse on the 38-acre rural property.
Why do most schools have a monotonous narrow hallway, flanked by metal lockers? For our design, the light filled hallway is no hallway. It is 60 feet wide (not the standard 12 feet) and 30 feet tall (not the standard 9 feet). Rather than merely circulation, our groundbreaking energy-filled hall IS the library, technology center, life skills lab, and wood shop. Field stone, standing seam metal, brick walls, and wood plank details capture the vernacular design metaphor. Roof lines recall the old barns that once stood on the site.
FEATHER RIVER ACADEMY, Yuba City, California
Rather than design a single building with parking in front and playfields in back, we explore the school’s mission statement of “Learning in Action,” by interweaving the program across the entire property. The 25,000 square foot, 180-student school serves students referred by the probation department, expelled by their local schools, or even homeless.
Our undulating roofs create an ever-changing journey—symbolic of the path of learning. The campus itself is an open textbook, where aspects of the architecture teaches. As one example, the paving has the solar system inscribed in the concrete, where the paths of the planets arc throughout the property. An illustration of Pluto marks the school’s entry, Earth is described in the central courtyard, and the sun is represented by an eight-foot tall sundial.
We are honored to have received dozens of local and national design awards from KnowledgeWorks, DesignShare, Edutopia, Illinois Association of School Boards, and the American School & University Magazine, just to name a few.
Most significantly, our work has been honored twice with the National Grand Prize, given jointly from Learning By Design, The American Institute of Architects, and National School Boards Associations—for the best designed school in the country.
“School District 129 is fortunate to have Anthony Poon learn about us, and capture our spirit and beliefs about education in the buildings we will build for our children. I believe that Anthony’s thinking and his work is extraordinary, and will find its way to many honors. He will create the future dreams of this nation.” – Dr. Sherry Eagle, former Superintendent in West Aurora, Illinois, and Executive Director for the Institute for Collaboration at Aurora University.