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How a new high-tech building will impact learning at ASM
Mary Swanson, Middle School Art Teacher

Five years ago, the American School of Madrid began planning for a new structure that would present increased opportunities for creative and collaborative learning. Since that time, the one, constant focus has been the planning and construction of the new Middle School. The ultramodern building is designed to embrace and nurture the ideals of curiosity, growth, and creativity, and as I discovered in interviews with ASM’s Headmaster, the Middle School Director, teachers, and students, there is an intensified sense of excitement as opening day approaches. 

“One of the main resources that we used to help guide the design and function of the building was a firm from Boston that specializes in education and schools for the future,” stated Mike Nugent, Middle School Director. “We looked at the school designs of other schools like the International School of Brussels, and we spoke to schools in the US”. 

Headmaster, Ben Weinberg, shared the story behind the making of a Middle School building. 

“I’ve worked before with David Crouteau from Flansburg in South Africa. I invited him to ASM to check out the space. We met with members of the Board and asked his opinion on what he would do or change.“

What once started as a 3D model, displayed in the main foyer of the school, would soon transform into the beautiful space that we currently see from our classroom windows. “It is stunning. It has a physical beauty but it also gives a sense of peace with the open spaces and natural lighting. It doesn’t feel like you are in a school.” 

                               

Mr. Weinberg stressed the importance of including four key design components in order for the building to be a success: community, connection [through visibility, practical construction, and conservation. “We didn’t want to be impractical. We wanted to ensure that everyone’s voice was heard and that our needs would be reflected in the design and construction of the building. We wanted to be transparent the entire time and have the community be part of the process; changing the school from a hierarchical decision-maker to one that is more participatory and inclusive.” 

Students and staff alike are also very excited to pack up their old classrooms, move into the new space, and get down to business. Isabella Grünwalder [7th-grade student] is most excited about “having a big open modern space.” While others, like Sofia Urgell [7th-grade student], share anticipation for larger spaces designed for collaboration. “I’m looking forward to more flexibility in the workspaces and larger classes so that we have room to do more activities.” 

Cohorts, such as the Middle School Science department, discussed ways in which the design of the classrooms would enhance learning. Middle School Director, Mike Nugent, added that “many community stakeholders were involved in the preparation and planning of the new building. Focus groups were created amongst students, parents, and staff. The groups shared their ideas for what would become our new middle school facility.” Each decision that was made needed to support educational purposes as well as being practical. Decisions about color, lighting, and even furniture were a large part of these conversations. “The new spaces, including the furniture that we selected, allows for maximum flexibility. Wheels have been placed on many furniture items, which will allow teachers to create a variety of learning configurations in the classrooms. The open spaces in the commons areas will also encourage students to collaborate. The large staircase will be a hub for small and large gatherings, and the commons areas will host a variety of school events including science fairs and art shows.”

 

Since we ‘broke ground’, students and staff have been anxiously awaiting this new change and have watched the construction unfold from classroom windows. “I am most looking forward to the new Learning Commons space. I can see [from the building plan photos] that it looks like a really awesome and cool place,” said 6th-grade student Anya Khurana. Middle School Science teacher, Jennifer Parker, who’s been part of the Design and Opening Day Planning Cohorts, stated she is “most excited for the amount of natural lighting and open collaborative learning spaces.” While other staff members, like Mandarin teacher Shihman Lee, who has been sharing classroom spaces for 10 years, can “look forward to decorating a classroom with educational purpose and being able to finally display students' work.”

The building was originally set to open in September of 2020, however, COVID-19 had other plans. Although the dates have changed, the excitement remains. As expressed by Mr. Nugent, “I am looking forward to seeing the students and teachers use this new space. The excitement of a new building will generate new and creative approaches to teaching and learning. Indeed, we all have a great responsibility to make the most of the new building and the potential to further learning excellence.”

Some additional facts about the new building: 

This building will be one of the first in Spain to be zero-energy
Solar panels have been installed on the roof to generate the building’s electricity.
The “skin” of the building is designed in such a way as to have minimal heating in the winter. 
The air will be renewed seven times per hour.
Venitian blinds in each classroom are operated by light sensors. This will help adjust and maximize the light in the room.
The design for the parking garage below the building was created with the future in mind. “In Spain, parking garage ceilings are typically very low. We wanted to think ahead by creating something that will last 50 years. If we ever get to a point where cars are no longer a need for transportation, we can then transform the parking garage without any trouble and gain another floor for classroom purpose,” said Mr. Weinberg.

  • new facilities