High Tech High facilities are developed and owned by HTH Learning, a private non-profit supporting the development of HTH schools. The original High Tech High opened in September 2000 in a newly renovated 38,500 square foot facility at the former Naval Training Center in San Diego (Point Loma), CA. Since then HTH Learning has renovated buildings for five additional schools at the same location, creating a "village" of three high schools, two middle schools, and an elementary school.
HTH Learning develops facilities that support its design principles of personalization, common intellectual mission, and adult-world connection. The facilities are attractive, economical, flexible, professional, and responsive to the needs of their inhabitants.
HTH buildings are visited by architects, school planners, and builders nationwide, who see our facilities development approach as a highly successful model. The original High Tech High received a “2001 Educational Design Excellence Award” from the American School & University Architectural Portfolio. The High Tech High, and High Tech Middle and High Tech High International buildings received prestigious Honor Awards in the 2002, 2003 and 2005 Design Share Competitions respectively.
A Transparent, High-Performance Work Environment
Visitors to any High Tech High remark that it looks and feels more like a high-performance workplace than a school. With beautiful textures and colors, lofty ceilings, comfortable furniture, informal meeting areas, and lots of interior and exterior windows, our facilities communicate a high level of trust and respect for the work of teachers and students. Visitors are struck by the effect on students of all ages, who can be seen interacting with adults in collegial, respectful, and engaged ways.
HTH facilities have been designed to support key program elements: team teaching, integrated curriculum, project-based learning, community-based internships, frequent student presentations, and exhibitions. HTH students make use of the flexibility that the buildings afford them, working individually and in groups large and small. Teachers work in teams to design integrated projects that cut across subject area boundaries. Each team shares an office adjacent to the “seminar” rooms in which they teach. These rooms have movable walls that support a variety of room configurations and activities.
HTH buildings aim for a high level of “transparency” to make each school’s particular culture of learning readily visible to its inhabitants. To this end, every wall surface in the school’s public and circulation spaces offers a place either to exhibit student projects or to look (through abundant expanses of glass) into the school’s dynamic seminar rooms, conference rooms, and specialty labs. Even the ceilings are used to showcase student work, with projects such as mobiles and sculptures suspended from the exposed truss systems. Fifteen minutes of wandering through any High Tech High building should be enough to give any newcomer a strong sense of what that particular HTH learning community is about.
School design in the United States has remained largely unchanged for the past 100 years. By changing the types of space in HTH schools, and the terminology we use to refer to them, we encourage our faculty and students to find new ways to teach and learn. Creating a new language of design, both spatially and verbally, helps give form to the HTH vision.
The key spaces within HTH buildings that are generally not found in traditional school facilities include:
1. The Commons Room—the intellectual hub of the school, a centrally located meeting area for student gatherings, exhibitions, presentations, performances, and community meetings.
2. Teaching Clusters—small “neighborhoods” of adjacent seminar rooms, studio spaces, and teachers’ offices, designed to promote team teaching as well as a sense of ownership and place.
3. Multi-Purpose Seminar Rooms—learning spaces with flexible furniture and walls that adapt to accommodate direct instruction, independent student research, group project work, and presentations.
4. Studio Areas—multi-purpose spaces for shared use by groups from adjacent seminar rooms to support individual, small group, and large group activities.
5. Shared Teacher Offices—individual teacher workstations and storage areas, clustered by teaching team and offering direct visual and physical access to adjacent teaching spaces.
6. Gallery Spaces—exhibition walls and areas for display of student work, often located in or along corridors and circulation routes.
7. Specialty Labs—labs and project rooms with access to technology and equipment for learning in specialized areas such as biotechnology, mechanical engineering, and graphic design.
8. Outdoor Learning Spaces—study areas, courtyards, amphitheaters, and performance spaces that extend learning beyond the walls of the school.
Each of these spaces is more fully explained and illustrated in the Building Design Elements section of the HTH Resource Center.
One important characteristic of High Tech High buildings is their adaptability to the changing needs of HTH students and faculty. Our thinking about how best to achieve this evolves with each new building we design. Our students and teachers are quick to tell us what works and what doesn’t. From the planning of commons rooms, to seminar rooms, to studio spaces, to storage areas, we have learned that it’s important to try new things and not be afraid to make mistakes along the way. The design considerations that inform our thinking include:
Seminar rooms and public spaces must adapt to multiple uses. For all spaces, this means wireless laptop access and sturdy but easily reconfigurable furniture. Seminar rooms and specialty labs must have hard surfaced floors for easy cleaning (projects are messy); sinks for project clean-up; adequate locked storage; good control of ambient light; plentiful electrical outlets; dependable sound and projection systems; data and voice access; and movable walls for team teaching.
HTH achieves a personalized environment by creating small learning clusters within its already small learning community. This approach promotes a high degree of ownership, as students and teachers decorate and customize their classrooms and studio areas to reflect who they are and what they are working on. Public spaces such as commons rooms and gallerias are used by the larger school community in the same way.
Unlike traditional school buildings, HTH facilities are transparent, with easy viewing to and from all offices, conference rooms, and seminar rooms. Copious amounts of glass create an atmosphere of “visible learning.” Large areas such as commons rooms and studios are located along main circulation routes to promote a sense of openness and coherence.
Although HTH facilities may appear simple and unassuming from the outside, the interiors elicit an immediate “wow” upon entering. For some visitors it is the openness that is most surprising. For others it’s the unexpectedly non-institutional look and feel. In any case, as our teachers and students push the boundaries of active, project-based learning, we are happy to communicate the message to all that, when it comes to school, this is not business as usual.