Isaac combines a stellar design capability and big-picture thinking with the detailed, analytical eye of a skilled university researcher.”
Isaac Williams is a Principal with Fielding International, and serves as the Director of the Baltimore / Washington Studio. He has led the design of schools in 11 countries on 4 continents. His design work has won numerous awards, most notably, the 2015 Association for Learning Environments MacConnell Award, the most prestigious award within the school design industry for the impact design has on learning, for the Dr. Phinnize J. Fisher STEAM Middle School, in Greenville, SC.
Isaac has taught architecture at both the undergraduate and graduate levels and has developed study abroad programs in the US, Dubai, Italy, and Scandinavia. His scholarship on school design has been published in both academic and trade publications, and he has lectured on school design nationally and internationally. He was the recipient of the Maryland Higher Education Commission’s Henry C. Welcome Fellowship from 2007-2010 for his research on the relationships between space and learning, and in 2015 collaborated in an interdisciplinary research study on the impact of active learning space on learning outcomes for students from diverse backgrounds, recently published by the AIA, EDRA, and SCUP. He has served as a juror for the American Institute of Architects National Honor Awards, the National School Board Association’s “Learning by Design” awards, DesignShare’s international awards program, and served as a resource team member and panelist for the American Architectural Foundation’s Great Schools by Design program.
In my very long career, this is the first time that a building has been designed to accommodate a curriculum rather than a curriculum adapting to a building.”
Small scale, low cost, big impact projects that help schools find the path forward. Fielding International’s "Pathfinder” projects are strategically designed for schools that are ready for educational innovation, shifting their pedagogy to a more Project-Based Learning and Student-Directed approach. These makeover projects enable students and teachers to implement and experience a new kind of collaborative learning environment that follows the patterns of a “Learning Community” model. These small-scale projects become the new models that illustrate new strategies for teaching and learning and allow teachers to develop new techniques. International School of Düsseldorf Singapore American School Yew Chung International School Pathfinders bridge the gap between the Discovery phase and the Construction phase of a school building project. They provide authentic experience and validation for the school’s facilities master plan; they harness the energy and ideas of teaching and administrative staff to experiment with the physical and pedagogical changes necessary to create a 21st Century learning experience for students. Fielding works with schools to identify appropriate spaces such as libraries, smaller gyms, classroom zones or unused outbuildings for the Pathfinders. Then our team designs changes to those spaces such that they meet desired outcomes but fit within acceptable cost target. Often these projects require little need for major physical changes to a building. Spaces can be re-configured, surfaces redone, flexible furnishings added and technologies incorporated to create Pathfinder spaces that allow for a wider range of teaching and learning modalities. Physical changes to spaces can serve as a significant catalyst to bring about changes to 21st Century teaching and learning. However, smaller teacher-developed projects focusing on furnishings, collaborative practices and pedagogy can produce tangible and immediate changes that have a positive impact on teaching and learning. Fielding works closely with teaching teams and administrators to create customized, objective-driven spaces, as well as furnishing and learning program plans. Pathfinder Learning Communities can also serve as temporary educational spaces during the construction phase, avoiding disruption and allowing students to immediately benefit from innovative programming. Additionally, the Pathfinders become a space for teachers and administrators to work through challenges and obstacles in a non-threatening way. Professional development becomes a physical experiment rather than a theoretical one. These relatively low cost projects also provide opportunity to illustrate what space and learning can look like in the future phases of a Master Plan. They are strategically selected after the Discovery phase based on: Key areas of need in the building and/or curriculum. Feasibility to transform the space affordably and quickly (usually over a summer). Interest and commitment of a professional team of educators who will collaborate to plan new and innovative learning experiences for students that will utilize the transformed space. Interest and commitment of a professional team of educators who will collaborate to plan new and innovative learning experiences for students that will utilize the transformed space. Cranston Public Schools Pathfinder Highlight Fielding helped navigate the District in establishing a ‘Pathfinder’ project that would set the standard for their educational spaces going forward. Cranston Public Schools’ showcase facility. Eden Park Elementary was the first step in the District’s plans to transform its aging building stock into modern, responsive learning environments to support all learners. Strategically designed to be a 'model home” of sorts, this Pathfinder Project showcases the new direction and educational innovation that the District’s future facility projects will take in the years ahead, while setting the tone for shifting their pedagogy to a more Project-Based Learning and Student-Directed approach. By reconfiguring underutilized circulation space, learning is now able to extend to shared areas outside the classroom. Classrooms are now studios, and the new space offers an interconnected array of different spatial types to support a variety of learning modalities to support all students. As a testimonial to the project's achievements. AIA Rhode Island, a statewide component of the American Institute of Architects, recently awarded Eden Park Elementary and Fielding International a 2020 Design Award of Merit. Additionally, the project has received international recognition, including a recent publication in Planning Learning Spaces. https://issuu.com/fielding-international/docs/planning_learning_spaces-eden_park Eden Park Elementary Pathfinder Eden Park Elementary Cranston Public Schools / Cranston, Rhode Island, USA The Eden Park project proves that when a school is designed to support the whole student at every level, it will prepare them and their teachers for the 21st century and show them a new vision of the future through the joy of learning. Learn More
How does one of the best schools in the world become even better? This is about our process, and our work bringing the community together to ultimately decide to invest almost half a billion dollars in upgrading the campus, with a focus on the alignment of education vision, program, and design. Master Plan Renovation “Pathfinder” Projects New Elementary School New Middle School Renovated High School and Sports Facilities 98,000 GSM (1,000,000 SF) 4,000 Students PK-12 Estimated Full Build Out 2028 Greenmark Platinum / WELL Gold Fielding was commissioned by Singapore's largest independent American school and an international leader in progressive education to develop a long range facilities master plan that aligns with the Singapore American School (SAS) 2020 Strategic Plan - an educational vision to ensure excellence, extraordinary care, and value for every child and family. The master plan, The Connected Campus, charts a sustainable path forward for the renewal of the entire campus in support of SAS 2020 and beyond. Every school division for Early Learning Center to the High School has been reimagined to create the qualities of space, and connections between spaces that support student centered, project-based learning. Great care was given to locating all school division buildings, competition athletic space, and parking on this dense site, without requiring any students to move to temporary space. The master plan re-imagines a campus that connects students to the outdoors and nature, starting with stronger connections to the catchment forest, a beautiful living laboratory, and extending to outdoor learning spaces big and small accessible from every building on every floor. Furthermore, SAS has made the commitment to ensure all new buildings meet the standards set forth by the Living Building Challenge. Fielding International led the design of the campus upgrade plan, introduced and implemented a Pathfinder project process, and is leading the design of building projects for all phases. Challenge At many of the world’s top schools, the incentive to maintain the status quo often overrides the incentive to embrace change. Why alter programs when students are already performing well? Singapore is a global hub for education, finance, innovation, manufacturing, and technology. The city-state’s schools are considered the best in the world, and students in Singapore consistently rank at the top in international assessments. At SAS, one of the premier international schools in the region, and the largest on the island, there was little incentive to change. But school leaders recognized that the world is changing rapidly, and so teaching and learning must continue to evolve to produce “exceptional thinkers prepared for the future.” The school wanted greater flexibility in the learning environment to support its vision for teaching and learning, but like many schools was struggling to communicate the “why” to parents and teachers; to explain how space might improve learning, and what the learning environment would be like. As a high performing school, the risks of change seemed too great. “How do we know this is the right direction? How do we know it will work?” The master plan challenge facing the Fielding team was, “how do you mobilize such a large community around improving its facilities to support education? Process To answer these questions, and many more, Fielding facilitated extensive student, teacher, and community engagement workshops and discovery sessions, while introducing a Pathfinder process together with developing a master facilities plan for the 4,000 student campus. Pathfinders are small-scale, relatively inexpensive prototypes of the kind of innovative, flexible learning environments envisioned for the future of the school. Our firm initially designed four of these Pathfinders as summer renovations to existing spaces, and now 11 have been built. Our team of educators and architects facilitated an inclusive design process that supported teachers as they envisioned a more flexible space, and new ways of working together to deliver the kinds of learning experiences that prepare thinkers for the future. The Fielding team went through 13 different scenarios and options for the phasing and scope of projects with a two year community engagement process to get to consensus on the final arrangement of buildings with goals of minimizing disruption, maximizing the connection to outdoors (a desire to incorporate the nearby rainforest into the campus) and supporting the strategic plan. Ellen Duff in a SAS Workshop In addition to the master plan report, our scope of work also included the creation of a 400-page design brief deliverable which outlines in great detail not only the spaces that should be included, but the school’s alignment to the educational vision and program. Result From the very first year of implementation, Pathfinder spaces have been a powerful learning tool. Over 400 parents have toured the Pathfinders on “learning walks” or guided tours of the spaces, which has helped build community support for SAS vision for learning and learning space. These prototypes have provided data on the impact they have on teacher relationships, student relationships, and student development of future-relevant skills. Over 90% of middle school students say being in a Pathfinder has improved their relationships with faculty and 100% of Kindergarten faculty (14 teachers) would not return to a traditional environment. Already, six other international schools have visited the Pathfinders to learn more, and the data about what works and what could be improved is providing guidance for the design of new spaces in the larger scale campus renewal. As a design team we are also learning more about the features that support introverts and extroverts alike, and the way professional learning communities (PLCs) evolve in shared space. The SAS Pathfinder projects serve as “learning labs” for teachers to continue to evolve best practice, for school leaders to learn what works in the spaces, and for families and to see an example of what learning and learning spaces will look like in the future as Fielding continues to work with SAS on three (3) additional phases of work which include the planning and design of a new elementary school, middle school, and renovated high school and sports facilities. Phase 1 The new Elementary School (540,000 SF / 2,040 students) came first and is being built on open play fields while the existing Elementary remains in operation. A great example of how to create a vertical Elementary School, the design breaks down the scale of the school. Although the structure is 7 stories, there are 4 main floors of main learning spaces with a central floor in between which includes the school’s shared spaces (dining and world language). This minimizes travel distance between those spaces with students only having to go up and down 1-2 floors at any given time. In addition to breaking down the scale of the school into learning communities, new innovations will be implemented in terms of dining, play space, wayfinding, daylighting and organization. The bottom two floors include gymnasiums, two covered swimming pools and a Bus Bay. To provide a more joyful arrival and departure experience, the Bay will serve 120 buses and will alleviate parent drop-off traffic in the highly congested downtown area and also serve as a covered play area during the day. From the Bay, a new “avenue,” or interior pedestrian “street” to each school (Elementary, Middle and High) will direct student foot traffic away from cars and provide a pleasant path to learning and the new campus square. Learn More SAS Elementary Groundbreaking Video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Mtiy_15ktE&t=51s Phase 2 Once the new Elementary is open and students are moved, the site of the previous Elementary will become available for the new Middle School (to be approximately 200,000 SF). Students will stay in their current Middle School with no disruptions through construction. The High School will also be renovated and include a new pedestrian path. Scale will be applied with the creation of 9th grade Learning Communities in one wing of the school which will support four (4) classes making a large high school feel small and support the transition from Middle School Learning Communities. There will also be a sense of personalization. A wider range of spaces - from quiet spaces, cave spaces, collaboration spaces, and co-working spaces - will allow high school students to find the right kind of workspaces for what they do. 9th Grade Learning Communities will provide interdisciplinary learning experiences and the flexibility to connect or separate classrooms. Four layers of sliding whiteboard doors will allow students and teachers to leave work up and acoustically help separate spaces and allow for open collaboration of larger groups. Cave spaces will be built into each Learning Studio for students who need quiet or tutoring. Soundproof pods and operable walls are also planned. Phase 3 The creation of a new Welcome Center will house admissions, advancement, and family services. This Center will include a 1 acre urban park in the center of campus is a key part of turning the campus inside out and integrating the first goals of the master plan which desire to incorporate the rainforest into the campus. The work includes planting indigenous trees and plants, and managing stormwater on-site to really integrate the buildings with the natural ecosystem. In the end, Fielding will have touched about 1,300,000 square feet of space with 4,100 students and 700 faculty members on site every day. There was a lot of strategy and organization to make sure there is minimal to in many cases no disruption to everyday programs. Related Design Patterns Learning Communities Cave Spaces Learning Studios Indoor-Outdoor Connections Testimonial The design of this building has the best thinking of our Educators, our community members and the talented Architects of Fielding International. Most importantly, this building will support our dedicated and talented Educators in the work they do every day for now and for many generations to come" - Ahab Abou-Oaf, SAS Board Member
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