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Back to School

By Brooks Rainwater, Director, Public Policy

School Without Walls High School,
Washington, DC.
Copyright: Joseph Romeo/Courtesy
Perkins Eastman/EE&K

As students head back to school it is increasingly important to recognize the outsized role that design makes in our nation’s learning environments. Architects are creating schools that are energy efficient, healthier, and promote increased interaction and learning opportunities. Space requirements are changing as students increasingly learn both from teachers and one another. During this month we will highlight school projects and public policy solutions that are helping to create the next generation of learning environments for America’s students.

The federal government recognizes the importance of highlighting schools and school districts that are exemplars in creating environmentally responsible, healthy learning environments. The US Department of Education created its Green Ribbon Award program for just this reason. This program highlights a number of schools projects across the country designed by AIA members, and throughout the month we will highlight a cross section of these award winners. Additionally, as a part of the federal government’s goal to green America’s schools the Energy Efficient Commercial Buildings Deduction (179D) has been established, and is being used by state and local governments to successfully incentive green design in school districts and universities nationwide.

Cities as a Lab: Designing the Innovation Economy will be released later this month on September 20th. This report is part of the larger AIA Local Leaders research series and focuses on the innovative policies taking shape across the country. One of the areas that will be focused on in this soon to be released report are the changing interactions that are happening between people and technology, which are reimagining schools and other learning environments.

Schools today must serve a “digital native” generation that now interacts in different ways with the built environment and the wider world around them. The AIA’s Committee on Architecture for Education (CAE) has exemplified this with its recent awards that show how more new schools include flexible spaces that function as teaching tools and enable both different learning styles and more personalized approaches to learning. Through all of this it is necessary to focus on the power of design to create more dynamic and sustainable spaces that blend learning with doing.

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This content is published by the AIA Government and Community Relations Department, 1735 New York Ave., NW, Washington, DC, 20006. To contact the AIA’s Government & Community Relations team, send an email to


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