Blue Sky

One idea for a better Portland

August 19, 2009 Published in the September 2009 issue of Portland Monthly


From left: Ziba Design’s Michael Etter, Open Meadow’s Carlos Lasuncet, and Ziba’s Sabrina Jetton with students Brian Woods, Jemma Burdette, and Seth Burdette

WHO: Sabrina Jetton
WHAT: Rethink School Design

If you want to know how to fix the schools, why not ask the kids?

That’s what Ziba Design did when the arts/youth organization Cal-dera offered us the opportunity to design a learning experience for the students at Open Meadow Middle School in North Portland. After conducting a series of exercises to understand the kids’ functional and emotional needs, we quickly discovered that while school provides a source of stability for many of them, the actual spaces inside the school don’t function very well.

For instance, students want to arrive early, but they have no safe place to hang out. They want to eat together like a family, but the cafeteria is designed mostly for efficient cleaning. They want to work collaboratively, with wall space for their work or performance spaces in which to shine, but their classrooms are laid out for rows of desks.

So we helped the students design new spaces that are as much about family as about learning, with homey elements like a front porch and a kitchen and places to ‘merchandise’ their work, sharing it with the community around them. Our goal is to translate the voices of the Open Meadow students into a 21st-century educational experience—part home, part community center—where learning is an exchange in the bustle of the marketplace. Open Meadow and Ziba will work with Holst Architecture to bring this goal to life.

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