Picking Up STEAM: New Maker Space Magnet School by Svigals+Partners

Award-winning architecture, art and design firm behind Sandy Hook School and Columbus Family Academy unveils latest K-12 project in New England, the Engineering and Science University Magnet School (ESUMS). 

If STEAM education is about integrating science, technology, engineering, the arts and mathematics into a project-based learning environment, shouldn’t school buildings for these specialized studies mirror the same foundations? The acclaimed architecture, art and advisory firm Svigals + Partners has arrived at an answer this year, completing the innovative Engineering and Science University Magnet School (ESUMS) in West Haven, Conn.

Accommodating grades 6-12, the impressive and modern school integrates artwork and experiential, didactic building concepts on the inspiring grounds of a private university. Spanning about 122,000 square feet in five stories, the learning environments are housed behind cantilevered glass facades and feature novel amenities and design elements specifically geared toward the ESUMS curriculum. “STEAM education intertwines both scientific and artistic mindsets, promoting the kind of 21st-century skills that students need: discipline, flexible thinking, risk-taking and creative problem-solving,” says Jay Brotman, AIA, managing partner for Svigals+Partners.

At ESUMS, student and teacher collaborations are supported by architecture, beginning with flexible classroom designs. Glass partitions open up to hallway learning spaces that widen on each end, where ESUMS students read or coordinate on cushy chairs and couches. Two unique features of the Svigals + Partners design include long, cantilevered wings suggesting train cars, and their highly insulating facades with louvered blinds to control interior heating — examples of the school building’s design concepts that remind students about such scientific notions as mass, stress, gravity and conductance.

“The building also includes a range of maker-spaces that allow students to create models and other objects from their studies using 3-D printers and special software,” says Julia McFadden, AIA, an associate principal with Svigals+Partners and an expert in K-12 STEM.. “In addition to its own amenities, the school is affiliated with the University of New Haven and located on their campus, bringing them access to more resources and study tools.”

Brotman and McFadden emphasize that the $58 million school represents a new breed of educational facility where architecture, art, technology and science curriculum merge to facilitate better student outcomes. The two architects led a highly collaborative planning process with involvement from its owner the city of New Haven, the host city of West Haven, and the University of New Haven, a partner in the project.

Animating the façade are relief sculptures created by the architect of some of Connecticut’s science visionaries. Inside, the showcase engineering laboratories are outfitted for cutting-edge STEM education while providing views to the University of New Haven campus, encouraging their path to continued learning. The architects and project team also had to overcome several challenges, including the combining of 20 parcels to assemble the site, creating a new zoning classification to allow for a school on the site, and extensive excavation and design for the tricky, compact urban site.

Other recent K-12 schools designed by the Svigals+Partners team include the Columbus Family Academy in New Haven and the Sandy Hook School in Newtown, Conn., which have been widely recognized for innovative approaches to specific K-12 needs. “Collaboration, community and creativity are the pillars of Svigals+Partners schools,” says Brotman, pointing to other recent examples including the Discovery Magnet School in Bridgeport; the Goodwin College Early Childhood Magnet School in Hartford; and academic buildings for Albertus Magnus College, Boston College, Yale University and the University of Connecticut.

About Svigals + Partners

Based in New Haven, Connecticut, Svigals+Partners is a full-service architecture, art and planning firm dedicated to building sustainable communities that uplift and inspire people. The firm is known for its success in the design and construction of educational facilities, community projects, research and science buildings and corporate workplaces since its inception in 1983. Known for their original and imaginative integration of planning, design, and artwork in the service of broad client goals, the firm is committed to creating meaningful change in the world. For more information, visit www.svigals.com