Education in a Post-Covid World

The COVID-19 Pandemic has affected nearly every sector and field in industries across the world. In the world of Architecture and Construction, Architects have been confronted with identifying, analyzing, understanding, and evaluating design challenges for new spaces, and re-occupying existing spaces. At Michael Shilale Architects, we face these challenges head-on and have addressed them for our Clients in the K-12 Grade Education sector through varying design approaches for classroom programmatic layouts.

PRE-COVID CLASSROOM LAYOUTS: The first step of this design process was to analyze Pre-COVID classrooms in order to better understand the challenges presented. New York State (NYS) Pre-COVID classrooms in K-12 Grades are to be a minimum of 900 square-feet as per New York State Education Department (NYSED) laws. This allows for approximately 25-30 standard student desks separated at 3 to 4-foot distances with adequate storage, and a teacher’s station. These range depending on classroom size proportions, exit locations, fenestration locations and general layouts of the room.

During our design process, we have analyzed and evaluated a wide range of solutions which include social distancing, mobile furniture layouts, distance learning, and remote collaboration through video connections between students and teachers.

Each of our Post-Covid classroom designs are based around the six-foot physical distancing CDC requirements. When designing, CDC guidelines as well as references like the AIA Re-Occupancy Assesment Tool, allows for us to best represent "the dynamic movement of people in a space ... acounting for the dynamic nature of human behaviour, a six-foot radius is utilized [...] to denote the circle of an individual's physical distance space. That physical distance circle can be a starting point for determining appropriate occupancy levels for a given space based on square footage." (American Institute of Architects AIA 2020 Disaster Assistance Committee)


Once the Pre-COVID classroom was analyzed, MSA created our proposed design solutions with various furniture arrangements, organization, and hierarchies. Schemes 1 through 5 show the use of Mobile Student Desk/Seat combinations with the COVID-19 six-foot social distancing guidelines.

In all classrooms, the "teacher’s desk" has been converted into a mobile podium which allows for greater range of motion, and to increase the versatility of the existing space. Multiple smart-boards and/or projector combinations are utilized with wide-angle video cameras on each side of the room so that students learning remotely can have multiple views of the classroom, avoiding blind-spots. Staggered rows of student desks minimize wasted space caused by social distancing, allowing for a larger number of students per classroom. In the case of remote student population becoming greater than the number of students physically in the classroom, Operable partitions (see scheme 2) can be used to split existing classroom space while maintaining classroom and desk standards.

If Mobile Student Desk/Seat combinations are not available to the School District, Schemes 6 and 7 illustrate different methods of seat organization that utilize the size of the existing classroom, allowing for a range of 20-25 students while still complying with COVID-19 social distancing guidelines.

With new COVID-19 guidelines, especially regarding the six-foot social distancing, student sizes per classroom will drastically decrease if proper furniture layouts are not considered. This decrease can cause a need for additional facilities that can come at great cost to School Districts. As many existing school buildings were constructed before NYSED's minimum requirement of 900 square-foot classrooms, MSA also analyzed Pre and Post-COVID design possibilities for said school buildings' smaller 770 square-foot classrooms, as seen in Schemes 7, 8 and 9.

REMOTE COLLABORATIVE LEARNING DIAGRAM: For the time being, the threat and vunerabilities of group gatherings, especially in a classroom setting, will continue to be a concern for school officials, parents, and students alike. In the case that some parents of students may choose to continue to have their children learn remotely from their home in order to reduce risk of exposure to COVID-19, MSA has created our Remote Collaboration in a Post-COVID World Diagram. Remote collaboration seats allow for greater remote collaborative learning, whether it's between students and teachers, or students working as a group; This diagram demonstrates direct and indirect connections between students and teachers by using multiple forms of networks, such as video and internet. Goals such as collaborative learning, group work, and remote tutoring can be achieved while maintaining a positive and productive learning environment.

Scheme design by Matthew Lung, Assoc. AIA

MSA will continue to strive for solutions to the design challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic as we all adjust collectively as a society in this new Post-COVID world.

Additional Resources/Information:
AIA Re-Occupancy Assessment Tool
Reopening America: Strategies for Safer Buildings
Reopening America: Strategies for Safer Schools
Risk Management Plan for Buildings
Steelcase: The Post Covid Workplace