by Mel Malmberg
Prep’s Master Plan came into being years ago with the consultation of architect John Dale of Harley Ellis Devereaux.
“We asked, ‘How can we make the existing campus better? How can we improve and enhance it?’” Dale says.
Plans came together around three main components: an enclosed, flexible space in the atrium in front of Norris Auditorium, enhancements to Memorial Field and a new three-story structure on the north side of campus.
With the new three-story Collaboration Building, Prep has an opportunity to provide physical space for three initiatives: STEAM, Global Studies and Leadership. The building will facilitate interactions not just among these three programs, but throughout the whole campus. The atrium and Memorial Field projects are scheduled to begin this summer. Plans for the design of the Collaboration Building are well underway with key faculty.
PrepTalk held a roundtable discussion with Dale and Prep teachers involved in the design of the new building. The process of designing the building has mirrored what happens, ideally, each day on campus: it’s collaborative, iterative and interdisciplinary, and it yields a product decidedly better in the end.
The discussion participants were Peter Bachmann, headmaster; John Dale, principal architect at HED; Nick Ponticello, STEAM coordinator; Ingrid Herskind, Global Studies coordinator; and Barrett Jamison, Dean of Student Life.
The opportunity to house the three initiatives together allows Prep to be “more explicitly cross-curricular, collaborative and creative, with empathy,” Bachmann says. “We want to integrate broad perspectives so students are well-equipped to solve problems. We can model seamless, nimble cooperation across the arts and sciences. We can emphasize global thinking because the world is at our doorstep more immediately and pressingly than ever before. And we can be sure that we answer to creative definitions of leadership.”
PrepTalk: Why this building now, and how will the whole campus benefit from it?
Peter Bachmann: These initiatives began separately from the building; we created the initiatives because we saw needs. Prep has always been about providing a broad-based education to students, enabling them to lead good lives.
I see this as part of the evolving definition of a liberal arts education, just as Aristotle used biology to inform philosophy, or Leonardo studied physics to paint Mona Lisa’s eyes. Now we see an opportunity to interweave them together, not just conceptually, but in the same physical space.
Ingrid Herskind: If we only look at problems from one perspective, and without understanding connections, we just fall into our own biases and stay in our own echo chambers. This building—these programs—combat that.
We want to get students to experience other points of view, to test themselves in all kinds of disciplines. The building encourages this, and kids will take these lessons from this campus to college and out to the world.
This attitude is one we want to teach and model. We are encouraging a risk-taking pedagogy, to reward students who try and fail, and try again—not just demanding perfection on tests. We don’t want to create students who are risk-averse.
PrepTalk: What stands out to you about the design process?
John Dale: Very early on, we recognized that the school carefully sets up their students to move out into the world.
Then, walking it, I was reminded of an Italian hill town, a little village. Here, there are nodes of activity, existing architecture from many eras. You live in a town, and there are many places to go, but they are distinct. It’s the same with Prep. And the more nodes we create, the more possibilities there are. It’s like weaving. We work some old and some new together to create something fresh.
The two major components of the master plan, the atrium and the new building, will share a new look for Prep. With wood perforated balconies and vertical wood slats along the walls, they share the heritage of the auditorium. We want to show that they belong here but are also a little different.
PB: For color, we are choosing fresh ideas but familiar threads. We want the new spaces to remain true to Prep’s mission: intimate, community-based, but fresh.
Barrett Jamison: I was at a student leader dinner last night, and our Assistant Commissioner General, Ryan Huntley ’19, really reinforced for me how much impact a space can make on your thinking. He said he was inspired by the past Senate T-shirts on display in Room 36, where Senate currently meets. He said it was like entering a legacy.
JD: I see the atrium space that way. We are strengthening what is already there, bringing warmth and functionality into an existing space.
PrepTalk: Describe the design process. What have you learned?
IH: it’s been very interesting. We had a meeting where we talked about how technology is the driver in some spaces and very much not the driver in others. We’re considering utility, quality and flexibility for the future.
I love that I could just take a class in International Relations downstairs to the makerspace and have them work on a project there. I could see the 7th grade geography class’s Museum of Los Angeles taking over all three floors of the common spaces for its presentation. I’m starting to see how we can use new space for things we already do, as well as accommodate new programs.
Nick Ponticello: This process has been the most interesting thing I’ve done at Prep. We’re talking big-picture stuff and long-term viability. We want to build something useful for now and into the future, not just to accommodate a fad. I love the process of iteration we’ve gone through. It’s exactly what I teach. It’s been a very STEAM-y process to come up with a STEAM space.
PrepTalk: All three of these programs are in a growth mode at Prep. What ties them together, long before they are in the same building?
NP: Service really ties these three ideas together. There’s our existing STEAM & Service Fair, and the Leadership program overall is so very service-based, as is Global Studies.
IH: For the Global Studies department, we want to create relationships, to give our students and our partners opportunities for development as deep and important as the ones we already have in Nicaragua. We’ll do this in small steps and maybe use biology, or STEAM, as a way to reach out. With more programs, we can tap into, and nurture, the different strengths and desires of students. Our kids are so strong. There are so many possibilities.
PB: We’re not only preparing students for known jobs. We want them to be confident, creative and skillful, so they can make entrepreneurial strides or come up with solutions for global problems. Trustee David Codiga said the two constants in his work over the years are that successful people are problem solvers and collaborators. He said he has never solved a problem without teamwork.
BJ: The building is symbolic of what we are trying to do. With three different disciplines, we are connecting and collaborating. The students will see that there are connections and they will need to work with each other, work with other skillsets to solve problems.
NP: Jodie Hare was talking about the collaboration between her English students and Ricardo Rodriguez’s 10th grade photo students on an assignment he devised called the Golden Record. The photo students used the computer numerical control router to carve boxes, then took several photos about the meaning of life. The English students contributed poems based on those images. It was a photo assignment initially, but the English students also wanted a say on the outside of the boxes. There was such a push and pull and such a sense of ownership of the whole project, and the aspect of integrating others, of negotiation—we want more of that happening.