Reshaping the square — Classroom choice architecture

In the late 1980s, the architectural firm Gruzen Samton Steinglass suggested that the public school system of New York City get rid of a century-old classroom design — the square. There was nothing terribly wrong with the square – it was certainly familiar and cost-efficient to reproduce – the firm concluded, but there were better ways to allow teachers to take advantages of their personalities and learning styles, and to hold student attention when multiple activities might be occurring in the same space.


“We if you just give the square a jolt?” said Peter Samton, recalling the creative process for the New Yorker magazine in 1991. “A whole handful of problems solved with a single jolt. You could turn one of the protruding ends of the new shape into a bay window, which would bring more light into the classroom. You could have little bays to put the independent-study groups in and a little niche to put the computers in. But at the same time the teacher would remain the real focus of the room instead of being just a bit player.”

Are there any New York City public school alumni out there who’ve been taught in these classrooms?

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