Summit Elementary School

Design for Learning



By Robert Gross, AIA, LEED AP | Senior Associate


I recently attended the International Interior Design Association – New York Chapter’s Institutional Forum, titled “Design for Learning: Evolution in Pedagogy and Physical Space”, which was held at Avenues: the World School – a fascinating new school which is housed in an adaptive reused industrial building on Manhattan’s West Side. The forum, led by architects and education professionals, explored the innovative ways in which school designers are approaching the problem of engaging today’s students.


Design charrette for Summit Elementary with teachers

SKOLNICK partners, Lee Skolnick and Paul Alter lead school administrators and teachers in a visioning design charrette


One underlying theme that has begun to guide architects and designers is called “Constructivist Learning” – the recognition that we have to create learning environments by trying to understand what’s going on in the child’s head.


Kids participating in design charrette for Summit Elementary

Students of the proposed elementary school participate in one of the several design charrettes held locally


In this way, we create spaces that kids want to be in, and promote learning encounters that they are engaged in and challenged by. One example of this approach is to incorporate “ad-hoc” learning spaces (niches, corridor coves, stairwells), sized for kids, which pull children out of the standard front-facing passive classroom routine. This type of strategy also encourages opportunities for chance encounters between students and teachers (or other students) and transforms the whole school into an environment for learning.


Children working and learning at Summit Elementary School

Concept Diagram was created by SKOLNICK based on the design charrettes


At SKOLNICK, finding the “narrative” in each project, and establishing its “Experience Criteria” for its audiences/user-groups, informs and guides our design process for each project, especially for our Children’s Museums around the world. Using this framework has led to our design of a public school, Summit Elementary, in Casper, WY. Here, the school officials were motivated by the potential impact of ‘interpretive design’ and how it could drive the creation of a new public school that addressed the academic needs of the students but also their innate curiosity, creativity, and desire to be in a place that was designed with and for them.


Concept Diagram for Summit Elementary

Concept Diagram was created by SKOLNICK based on the design charrettes


Planning Diagram for learning experience at Summit Elementary

Planning Diagrams of the proposed facility and site amenities






The Design Cure


Library Design – Interpretive Master Planning for our New Town Squares (Part I)


Library Design – Interpretive Master Planning for our New Town Squares (Part II)


From Aging-in-Place to Sheltering-in-Place