Reimagining Spaces for Tomorrow’s Thinkers


Stefee Knudsen

Jon von Behren
Director of Facilities
Oregon Episcopal School

David Lowell
Head of Lower School
Oregon Episcopal School


LU: 1

Learning Units

How applies to HSW:

The topic is applicable to Health, Safety and Welfare Design credits due to the following:

1. The change in teaching methodology to active- and inquiry-based learning improves emotional development and learning outcomes. Students focus their energy on critical thinking and collaborative problem solving, two skills that will be increasingly important as technology continues to replace a larger portion of our workforce.

2. Understanding the attributes which inspire or inhibit active learning pedagogies in building design will increase community building, a key ingredient in a successful school.

3. A combination of energy efficiency, daylighting, and natural building materials create a net zero ready healthy building for learning and teaching.

4. This presentation contributes to HSW by preparing teachers to take full advantage of their opportunities to foster a resilient community of learners in a world where culture and education are changing at an unprecedented rate.


How does our current teaching process need to change to give our youngest students the educational foundation to be resilient global citizens? How can we meaningfully connect students to the natural environment and inspire them to be stewards of our communities? Oregon Episcopal School’s (OES) Lower School Head and faculty started by asking these questions, and then were inspired to evolve their pedagogy and building a new lower school that would enhance their growing vision and its evolution.   What it means to be a leader in our society is changing as communities are placing less emphasis and value on hierarchical structures and more importance on critical thinking and collaborative problem solving. In parallel, understanding of brain development and effective teaching methods have pointed to less hierarchical approaches to learning, and more towards effectively enabling students to become directors of their own education and reimagining how teachers can collaborate. Inquiry-based, student-centered learning empowers students to make education relevant to their interests, engage in ways most compatible to their learning modalities, and grow into adaptable thinkers who will be able to respond to a changing world. Active and experiential learning requires a different look at the design of the classroom. OES is an example of an institution embracing experiential learning, and identifying a need of a different type of spaces to support and flourish the new pedagogy.   OES’s campus and Lower School are surrounded by a natural beauty that inspire sustainability and resiliency as core values. As OES embraced a change in pedagogy toward nature-inspired inquiry-based learning, they found their existing facilities limited or prevented teachers and students. The teacher’s new role as a guide and the students individual learning modalities begged for a different type of physical space. As a result, OES embarked on reimagining a New Lower School, whose mission was to foster collaboration between teachers, create spaces connected to nature to inspire student curiosity and exploration, and enable their faculty to nurture tomorrow’s diverse and thoughtful thinkers who are moved by their connection to the natural world to be stewards of the environment and leaders of resilient communities.

Learning Objectives:
  • Understand how spatial requirements for active- or inquiry-based learning differ from traditional teaching spaces.;
  • Understand how non-classroom spaces can foster informal learning between teacher-teacher, teacher-student and student-student.
  • Describe the academic and developmental benefits active- and inquiry-based learning offer students.;
  • Describe the energy efficiency features that allowed the project to be considered “net zero ready” and participate in the “Path to Net Zero” program.
Primary Competency:

Design of Educational Facilities: Acts as a resource to the design team in providing ongoing guidance and support to ensure that the emerging and ultimate design aligns with the established community vision, education goals, future programming, written design standards, best/next practices and education policy.

Primary Domain:

Learning: Content of this session/workshop will focus on how we learn and/or how the physical environment responds specifically to various methods of instruction, pedagogies, learning styles, or learning trends.

Secondary Domain:

Context: Content of this session/workshop will focus on the circumstances that form the setting for the design and construction of specific learning environments and characteristics that distinguishes the project from other applications.