Lab Design Lessons from a STEM Pioneer: Part 3 (The Art of Authentic Science)
There’s an art to making science authentic.
Large corridor windows beckon Niles North and West High School students to take a look at what’s happening within the STEM labs at the heart of their schools. At first glance, they will notice their fellow students working together on research and experiments. Then they will realize that the labs resemble what they would find in a university.
Now we turn to the third and final lesson learned from the design of STEM labs at Niles North and West. It has to do with aesthetics. Think of it as using the elements of design to create an “image” or “brand” within the labs. Ideally, the lab’s materials and colors suggest maturity and authenticity . . . an environment similar to what students would encounter in the professional or collegiate world.
The aesthetics of the labs at Niles North and West merge industry and science. For instance, the wood work tables and slop sinks recall the traditional shop. Conversely, epoxy resin lab tables, rubber flooring, metal casework, and stainless steel trough sinks and wash basins resemble what you’d find in a professional laboratory. Additionally, an overhead pipe grid that runs throughout the labs offers structural support for experimentation and distributes utilities.
The STEM Brand
A couple years after the STEM labs were created, Niles Township High School District 219 wanted to transform old classrooms at both high schools into labs that would house their Project Lead The Way (PLTW) pre-engineering program (now part of the STEM curriculum). One major challenge was that the PLTW spaces would be on a different floor and at the opposite end of the school from the STEM labs.
When designing the PLTW labs, we drew from the STEM lab aesthetics (or the STEM brand) to visually connect the two spaces. Note the similarities between the exposed ceilings, floors, work surfaces, and the overall feel of the spaces. The result is that when students walk into the PLTW labs, they recognize them as part of the STEM curriculum.
Contact us to learn more about STEM lab design or comment below to share your thoughts on this post.
Second photo courtesy Niles Township High School District 219.