Built to support the teaching of science, technology, engineering, art and math (STEAM) by Linberg & Simmons, the Bermuda High School for Girls (BHS) brand-new STEAM Innovation Centre not only provides a unique space for students to learn in, but is, in itself, a tool for learning.
Large edges of the ceilings, for example, are exposed so the girls can see some of the technology, structure and systems in the building, and the exposure of these elements promotes discussion around engineering and sustainability. This is because in today’s world, it’s not enough for students to just learn these subjects. They need to understand how they are linked and then applied to life after school, and the building has been expertly designed and fitted out to meet this need.
“What we’ve found in twenty-first-century education is that creative and critical thinking are key,” explains BHS headmistress, Linda Parker. Girls can achieve this, she continues, through “collaboration, project work and thinking outside the box. We have to rethink things in every shape and form.” Many people have become familiar with STEM education, but the “A,” which represents the creative arts, is less well known. Parker insists that they are absolutely vital “because arts are linked in with science and technology. Everybody has always gone STEM, but we said ‘no, we want to go STEAM.’”
BHS chose local architectural firm Linberg & Simmons to design the new building, and they worked with global architecture firm Gensler, who have extensive experience in designing modern educational buildings. The result is a cutting-edge, glass-fronted, fully accessible educational centre with five science rooms, two computer science laboratories, a leadership centre, digital media box, maker space, learning commons, library, breakout rooms and numerous other communal areas designed to encourage collaborative learning.
In addition to the brand-new building, the adjacent Butterfield Building was also renovated and connected to the Innovation Centre. This houses four math rooms, three art rooms, exhibition space, a staff collaboration room, music rooms, practice rooms and a recording studio. The whole area has a university campus feel to it, which is deliberately done to prepare the girls for the next stage in their education. The new building sits behind the old, using a third of the neighbouring Bank of Butterfield’s parking lot—an area that had once belonged to BHS—so the school could continue to run while the building work was going on.
As with the ceilings, the walls are also designed to inspire and encourage enquiry. “The glass enables people to see through into the classroom to see what’s going on,” says Gary Simmons, architect and partner at Linberg & Simmons, adding that “the transparency between these learning spaces and the programmed spaces, such as the laboratories and classrooms, ensures a level of connectivity which encourages participation.” Like so much of the building, the glass is also an important learning tool. “The glass is writable, like a blackboard,” says Parker, who, while researching innovation buildings in the US was inspired when she saw children doing physics equations on a glass wall.
Extensive thought went into the layout of the various areas to ensure they were as flexible and conducive to collaboration and learning as possible. The outdoor courtyard in front of the Innovation Centre and the learning commons, which is the first area you walk into, have, says Simmons, “become the new heart of the school. They are surrounded by the classrooms, laboratories and learning areas.” The learning commons is spacious, airy and modern and is designed so the students can work either individually or in groups. What looks like a curved bar area, isn’t. It has room for 20 children on the far side and provides a different type of learning and teaching space.
A traditional, but glass-fronted library sits to one side of the learning commons and can hold up to 8,000 volumes. Behind that is a specialist area which includes a laptop helpdesk and the server room. Again, both have glass fronts so the students can see what is going on and understand what is behind the technology. A priority area is the maker space as this is where art and design directly meet innovation and technology. It is also important “as a generator of enthusiasm,” says Simmons. The maker space is a modern version of the traditional design and technology and woodwork classrooms.
“It’s a creative space,” says Parker. “Right now, they’re making catapults!” There is a separate area for all the machinery which includes a laser cutter and 3D printer. The students can make a prototype using cardboard and then make their actual product using the printer. “You can make anything with that,” she adds. “Nuts, bolts, PPE masks.” All the furniture is on wheels so the room can be reconfigured as needed—a feature that is replicated in nearly all of the other classrooms. “The maker space was intentionally positioned near the arts area, the digital media room, computer science laboratories and the learning commons, all of which have a visual link to each other or the shared learning spaces, which connect them,” says Simmons.
All the shared learning spaces, some of which are fitted along hallways, have differing layouts according to space and location. Some have booths with tables, some are traditional chair and table arrangements, and some include “bouncy stools” for girls who struggle to sit still. “The idea is that the girls can come out of the classroom, talk, create and there are different types of seating and furniture layout to suit every type of child,” says Parker. “Girls like to talk to learn.”
Located close together are the math and science rooms because, says Parker, “first cousin to science is math, so we now have a teacher space where science and math teachers are all in here and they do their planning and marking together.”
“Math and science were consciously linked via ‘learning’ halls,” Simmons adds. “The learning halls, laboratories and math area surround the teachers’ planning and collaboration area, which provides for casual student-teacher interaction.”
Another thing BHS students love to do is to make or take part in videos, and this is where the new digital media box can bring their lesson subjects to life. The room has a black ceiling, bright green walls and floor, and professional lighting stands. “The idea here is to bring technology into your classes,” says Parker. “So, for your French class, kids can come here, they can do the green screen, they can have the Eiffel Tower in the background, and you can do a role play between a waiter and customer. This is what the kids are into. Making videos and using green screens.”
For the teaching of the more traditional visual arts, there are now three large classrooms in the Butterfield Building. This area was chosen for its natural light, and the largest of the three rooms has a glass screen that can be pulled across to divide it. “This is a potential gallery. It’s also an area where you can have an artist to talk to the students about a specific style,” she continues. There is a pottery and ceramics area, machinery for creating digital art and a room specifically for the International Baccalaureate (IB) art students. “They no longer have to pack away their art work,” says Parker. “They have their own workspace. Their own areas. When they’re free, they can come in and work on their art. This stays up until they’ve finished. None of the younger years can touch it.”
Energy efficiency was an essential component in the building design as not only is it important from a sustainability perspective, but it also keeps the bills down. “The design, and specifically the large overhangs and pergola all provide additional levels of solar control,” says Simmons. The exterior Solarban glass means all the rooms benefit from a mass of natural light, but the heat is reflected off the building. There are also solar panels on the roof and sensor lighting in many of the rooms.
In addition to Simmons, the local architectural and design team who worked on the Innovation Centre included Tina Sjoberg and Peter Carfoot, and BCM McAlpine oversaw the construction of the facility. It was important to all involved that the BHS students felt a part of their new building and Carfoot prepared animations to present to them, which, says Simmons, “fuelled excitement and inquiry about the process and new facility.” Sjoberg worked with the STEAM task force and educators on furniture for the new and renovated buildings which had to be modern, flexible and practical as well as conducive to twenty-first-century education.
As well as much of the furniture being on wheels so classrooms can be rearranged for different teaching styles and purposes, other interesting furniture features include a boardroom layout in the leadership centre. This helps the students to feel familiar in a corporate environment and subtly encourages them to aim high. “Women are in a minority at board level,” says Parker. “From Year Six and up, we have classes and meetings in here, so they are comfortable in this space.” To further emphasise female achievement, the leadership centre is named after Gladys Misick Morrell and Doris Trott Butterfield—both prominent and successful Bermudian suffragists.
The science rooms are organised with the workstations around the outside and then a Harkness table in the centre. The students do their experiments at the workstations and then move over to the central table to talk about it and write it up. “Harkness promotes discussion, debate, questioning and group work,” says Parker, “and allows for more fluidity.”
Throughout the new and renovated buildings, Linberg & Simmons have incorporated a variety of interior design techniques all of which create fun and teachable spaces that allow the students to spread out or come together as needed. Distinctive colours have been used “to annunciate areas and establish identity,” says Simmons. “The leadership room is a bold yellow tone, which is associated with enlightenment and creativity, and it happens to be a BHS colour.” Elsewhere, you will see pops of bright blue, green, red and purple in the workbenches or seating. In the dedicated IB art room, a wall is decorated with colourful signs listing all the professions for which artistic skills are essential—architect, cinematographer, furniture restorer, industrial designer and taxidermist being just a few of the many examples. Different-coloured hexagons marked with the names of many donors stand out as a thanks to all those who helped make the new building possible.
It’s not just colour that adds to the creativity of the centre, but also the different building materials used, not just because they work, but also because they are interesting and promote discussion about, for example, building design and technology. “There is a pergola over part of the courtyard, which is both functional and intended to celebrate craftsmanship and create a visually exciting mix with the various technologies used in the design,” Simmons explains. “The use of wood was intended to cover some of the façade and a similar aesthetic was carried through on some of the ceiling interiors.”
This project has been many years in the making. BHS first began looking into the idea of a new STEAM centre back in 2016, and Linberg & Simmons became involved in mid-2017.
“Designing a facility that is intended to stimulate learning through the integration of art and design with STEM subjects was a unique and exciting opportunity,” says Simmons. “Not only because designing a facility that can positively impact so many is rare, but because our profession, similarly, provides a platform for the integration of art and design with our ability to problem solve, compute, and work with constantly evolving technologies.” Parker adds that “the synergy is unbelievable. There is so much excitement. The primary students are salivating to get in there.” The judges’ views? They all want to go back to school!