Project: Buckingham County Primary and Elementary Schools at the Carter G. Woodson Education Complex
134,015 SQ FT
Year Completed: August 2012
Project Architects: VMDO Architects, P.C.
Research Partners: VMDO Architects, P.C., University of Nebraska Medical Center, University of Virginia School of Medicine
LEED Certification: Tracking LEED Gold
Project Summary: The Buckingham County Primary and Elementary Schools project is a collaborative case study that aims to address student health and well-being through the implementation of holistic design interventions. The project completely re-envisions the school environment to enhance students’ knowledge and overall learning experience, both inside and outside the traditional classroom. Through its design and research process, the Buckingham team also developed the Healthy Eating Design Guidelines for School Architecture. Published by the Centers for Disease Control, this Guide provides practitioners in architecture and public health with a practical set of design strategies for making school environments more conducive to learning about and practicing healthy eating.
The evidence-based design principles that guided the design of the school were co-created in a collaborative team setting with the client team of educators, VMDO Architects and a public health research team from the University of Nebraska and the University of Virginia. In addition, the team worked closely with German furniture manufacturer VS America to specify ergonomic furniture that promotes movement through the ability to transition from sitting to standing for activities such as reading, project-based learning, free work and collaborative learning. This process resulted in a school that through its design promotes healthy eating, nutrition education, and opportunities for physical activity, movement and play.
The team has embarked on a two-year longitudinal study to measure the impact of the new school food and physical activity environment as well as programmatic features such as the integration of school garden activities into curriculum. Researchers from the University of Nebraska Medical Center and University of Virginia School of Medicine, in collaboration with VMDO Architects, are employing multiple assessment methods including environmental audit tools and surveys, analysis of school food procurement and student food purchases. The team is also employing qualitative assessment methods by conducting interviews, direct observation, ethnography and innovative student reflective exercises. Data and evaluation from this project, scheduled to be completed in Spring 2014, will contribute to the development of policies for school design, interiors and landscapes that promote healthy eating and active behaviors.
According to the design team, the inclusion of health-promoting design features responded to the immediate needs of the Buckingham community as well as the relative dearth of research (in both the public health and design sectors) analyzing the role that school programming and design can play in reducing childhood obesity rates. With a land use pattern dominated by the timber industry and industrial farming practices, Buckingham County boasts little access to fresh and healthy food as well as safe places for riding bikes, walking, playing or being active. The architects immediately sought to counteract the connectivity challenges of the existing rural context by designing the school with ample indoor and outdoor amenities, increased connectivity and recreational landscapes, that are centered around a healthy food environment.
Active Design Highlights:
1. Physical activity and general movement are promoted with:
2. Outdoor areas promote recreation and provide:
3. Access to and education about healthy food is provided with:
To see a video from the architects and researchers about this project, click here.
Changes in dining room design may contribute to increased knowledge of the food environment, preference for fruits and vegetables, and higher vegetable consumption.
When using playgrounds that are painted with designs for games and imaginative play, kids engage in moderate to vigorous activity for more than 50% of their recess period.