The design for Panther Lake Elementary School focuses on bringing together the school’s learning and common areas in order to enrich the students’ educational experiences. Long rows filled with formal learning spaces run parallel to each other, while a corridor containing the school’s major common areas runs through the rows at a diagonal, bisecting and connecting the separate learning areas. As a result, the various learning centers remain open to one another even though they appear to be separated by their different colors and structural elements.
The rows, each of which is dedicated to structured learning activities, vary in width and length depending on which classrooms they contain. Unlike most schools, however, the classrooms at Panther Lake Elementary are not divided by curriculum, but by the learning activities that will be taking place inside them. Different learning activities are broken down and distributed throughout the school’s block-like rows based on size, system needs and function to allow for greater adaptability over time.
The corridor that links each of the rows together consists of a group learning area, display cave, library, story corner, outdoor learning patio, cafeteria and auditorium. These areas are grouped into social, resource, and event spaces. However, instead of having solid divisions separating the areas, each one is connected by an open space. The airy, continuous quality of the common corridor encourages intermingling between students from different classrooms and teaches them the importance of exploration in addition to focused learning.
Striking a balance between the community and individual aspects of schooling was a primary goal in the design of Panther Lake Elementary School, but equally important was designing a building that would be functional for young children. With large amounts of natural light, the indoor areas are perfect for teaching and learning. The school’s exposed steel structure, wooden frame, piping and ducts allow students to see past the surface level of the building and into its inner workings. The glossy concrete floor, although not forgiving for clumsy children, is extremely easy to clean and maintain.
Some material choices even reinforced the architects’ mission to create an educational environment that would allow children to learn on their own as well as with others. For instance, the large windows and semi-translucent construction materials along hallways and entry areas connect indoor areas to outdoor ones and provoke curiosity within students. By seeing what their classmates are up to on the other side of the glass, children are not only interacting with their peers, but also increasing their chances of stumbling upon material that may spark their interest and help them to grow as a student.