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Brownell Middle School

Gilroy, CA

Brownell Middle School Embraces Natural Exploration in Learning Space Design

Brownell_MS_class5_exterior_Ruckus_900px width.jpg

The Gilroy Unified School District, Aedis Architects and KI partnered in a three-year initiative to revamp the district’s largest middle school. The original Brownell Middle School was built more than 70 years ago, so it was time for a change. The school district’s leaders and the team at Aedis agreed that the campus needed to evolve to meet the diverse needs of K-12 students and teachers today.

School officials, architects and design specialists began by rethinking what learning could look like. Then came the idea ... “What if school was like summer camp?"

Ruckus Chair, Ruckus Post-Leg Desk and Ruckus Lectern

Aedis hosted teachers, administrators and school staff for a series of design vision workshops where they identified what mattered most in learning spaces. A few themes emerged. Embracing natural exploration was one goal. Participants in the workshops also called for establishing distinct “zones” to serve unique purposes.

School and district participants gravitated toward author David Thornburg’s archetypal learning spaces: watering hole, mountain top, sandpit, cave and campfire. The “cave” is where students pursue focused, independent exploration. The “watering hole” is where students gather to collaborate and learn socially. Each resulting zone serves a distinct work style and therefore supports students who learn in all kinds of different ways.


Joe Vela, a principal at Aedis, describes the campus layout as “clustered groups of buildings along a meandering river.” The design team also prioritized giving students access to nature, fresh air and sunshine.

Supporting various learning and teaching styles

The design process resulted in learning spaces capable of supporting various teaching styles, student approaches and classroom activities. Oversized garage-style roll-up doors empower educators to easily move the locus of learning from indoors to outdoors.

To enable such an energetic space, Brownell needed flexible and mobile furniture solutions. At KI, we recognize that every school community has a unique culture of learning and that selected furnishings must complement that culture.

Doing the Homework

To make sure each product was a fit for Brownell, the school’s principal and educators tested three furnished sample classrooms. Aedis and KI demonstrated how to rearrange the furniture to accommodate various learning needs. Then, students also tried out the sample classrooms and were surveyed on their preferences.

The world of K-12 education is evolving rather quickly these days.

- Paul Nadeau, Gilroy Unified School District’s director of planning and management

In the end, Brownell’s classrooms are outfitted with furniture solutions that prioritize mobility. School officials appreciate that the Ruckus Collection gives students the freedom to move around, to seamlessly transition from individual to group work and to use the back of the Ruckus chair as an armrest or work
ledge. Doni stack chairs on casters, triangular Ruckus post-leg desks, Pirouette nesting tables and D-shaped Pillar tables all support movement through human-centered design.

At KI, we strive to deliver products that will fit our clients’ needs today, tomorrow and years from now.

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