Educational Buildings: Safety and Durability by Design

Attention to detail in multiple places is key to better performance
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Sponsored by Inpro
By Peter J. Arsenault, FAIA, NCARB, LEED AP
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Solutions to these window issues have been used on both the exterior and interior of buildings. However, controlling daylight and glare from the inside is often a functional necessity in many cases for educational buildings. Teachers and staff need to be able to quickly and easily make adjustments to suit periodic or daily changes in classroom needs for presentations and activities, or simply to reduce distractions. In response, manually operated roller shades have commonly been placed in schoolroom windows to create flexibility and control. Fully open, they can allow for full penetration of daylight and clear views to the outside for students. For times when solar control is needed to reduce light, glare, or heat gain, they can be closed fully or partly. While historically, the shades have been simply room darkening, opaque material, there are now a myriad of other options available to suit differing needs that improve the quality of the indoor school environment.

Among the options, textured roller shades can be used which allow diffused daylight to pass through a fabric appearance that reduces the total light transmission. In this way, they reduce glare, add comfort, and produce a favorable light quality inside the building. At the same time, they provide a degree of privacy or muted views through to the outdoors as may be desired. The particular characteristics of any such shade can be customized based on the particular weave and percentage of the area that is open versus closed in the fabric. Textured, partial light transmitting shades can be used alone or in combination with other shades that are fully opaque to provide the greatest degree of flexibility and control.

Shade systems are available that use chains or cords to raise and lower the shades, but there are also products available that are completely cordless. Such cordless window shades are a logical choice for school buildings since the presence of dangling cords can be a safety hazard for children. Rather than trying to contain or conceal the cords, the elimination of them dispels any potential problem, thus meeting new consumer product safety standards and eliminating the need for a ligature. This makes them safer for students of all ages from the risk of strangulation from cords. Cordless shades commonly use a spring roller system that allows for direct and easy manual adjustment of the shade with capability to raise and lower it to any height. A privacy track can also be included along the sides to keep the shades in place and provide additional light-blocking at the window edges.

In some higher security or specialized school settings, where damage or tampering is a particular concern, it is worth noting that there are self-contained cordless window shade systems specifically designed to resist such damage. This type of system features side channels and an extremely durable security box fascia to protect its mechanical components, making it tough to inflict damage. The shade material itself can also be specified from available, non-organic, resilient fabrics that are durable and easy to clean.


Educational buildings tend to be large, with many different rooms, and they are often designed to accommodate a large number of people with different roles, including students, teachers, staff, and vendors. As such, navigating through the building and finding the right room is most typically facilitated using architectural signage. Some signs are useful and desirable for general purposes, but others are required to comply with accessibility requirements, including ADA, to address inclusivity. In addition, safety is a consideration with signage since all building occupants need to be clear on where to go and how to identify designated places in the event of any emergency.

Creating a consistent architectural signage package that meets budgetary needs is often achieved by using standardized signage products that can be readily and easily customized as needed with wording or graphic content. Manufacturers of such signage products commonly have a range of choices for standard sizes, colors, materials, and finishes. They are also usually very up-to-date on understanding the latest requirements for accessibility, such as readable contrast, braille, mounting heights, sign locations, etc. They can also be quite helpful in working with an interior design scheme to allow the signage to be readily recognizable while conforming to an overall design intent for the spaces where they are mounted. Designs can accommodate artwork, biophilic, or organic elements, and even custom graphics.

Standard sign packages can be customized to suit different building interior design schemes while functioning as their own design elements.

Architectural signage that is intended to be informational can be fully customized to suit the needs for a particular educational building.

It is important to remember that the information contained on signs can be fully customized when using manufactured signage. Graphics or wording can be provided that is then transferred to the appropriate sign. Design professionals can work with the manufacturers directly to select the preferred looks, colors, size, and shape of the signage to achieve the best intended results. This can include selecting different accent pieces behind the actual signage portion to blend or contrast with the surrounding walls or doors. It can also mean having different specific sizes or shapes for different purposes. For example, room identification signs can follow one design scheme while general information signs or safety related signs can follow a different design scheme. Overall, the end result is a functional, easy-to-read system of architectural signage that is coordinated and code compliant.

In terms of installation of signs, many manufactured sign systems have developed effective and visually appealing ways of attaching signage. Those that are easy to install help with the construction or renovation of a facility, but that trait also makes it easier for maintenance and facility managers to remove, relocate, or replace signage when it is needed. In fact, there are signage products available that can be used with inserts or magnets for quick changeability. Similarly, using a manufacturer with a long-standing track record in the business of architectural signage means that they will likely be available for future architectural signage needs if the building operation requires some new or different signs to match the ones originally installed in a project. {{question6}


There is another area that presents itself on most large educational buildings which deserves some special attention. Specifically, we turn now to architectural expansion joints, which are predetermined gaps in large structures that are designed to absorb environmental movement in buildings. In large educational buildings, they are a necessity, particularly where buildings are segmented into different sections, or if one structure attaches to another structure, such as a parking garage or other use. The location, size, and movement requirements for all such expansion joints are project-specific and appropriately established by the Structural Engineer of Record.

Different types of products are available to fill expansion joints, including fire-resistance-rated systems to provide continuous fire safety where needed, including foam filler (shown on left) and fire blankets (shown on the right).


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Originally published in Architectural Record
Originally published in March 2023


Educational Buildings: Safety and Durability by Design
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