Skip to main content

This site uses cookies to provide you with a better user experience. By using, you accept our use of cookies.Learn More

Supporting Pandemic Resilience in Schools with Parametric Design

During unprecedented and difficult times, new technology tools can assist our communities and schools as they engage in the process of returning students to in-person learning. Our new School Parametric Design Tool helps map out learning spaces based on school-specific criteria, including available floor area, classroom furniture, pandemic requirements, etc.



September 22, 2020

Many schools are currently engaged in the challenge of returning students to in-person learning in the midst of a global pandemic. It is a difficult situation that school districts and teachers now find themselves navigating. This is one of the largest-scale problems our world is currently facing, and we can utilize various technology tools to find solutions in support of students, teachers, and parents. Given that every geographic area has its own protocols for setting up in-person learning during the pandemic, the solutions must be flexible and account for varying requirements.

As students get back to school, following physical distancing guidelines is key to staying safe. How can schools find efficient solutions to optimize available space, while also considering student capacity? A tool like our School Parametric Design Tool could help.

The output of the tool is a plan indicating an optimized desk layout for each learning space. The process begins with an accurate as-built plan of the school, as either a PDF or a Computer Aided Drawing (CAD) file, to establish the spatial parameters of each space being assessed. An on-site survey is then undertaken to identify elements that impact available floor area, like fixed furniture, teaching wall location, or alterations made to the plan since the as-built drawings were created. By combining the survey and as-built information into a CAD plan, we create a template over which the parametric tool can calculate optimized layouts against a series of variables.

The next steps would be to make adjustments based on each school’s unique requirements, such as the underlying grid (ex. a square- and/or triangle-based layout); the orientation of the desks (ex. “eyes front” and/or “student collaboration”); and allowing major circulation pathways within classrooms. Other considerations that might impact parameter settings include the age of students, the school’s mask-wearing policy, changes in the mutation of the virus, different desk dimensions, and types of activities the classroom will be used for.

Even in these unprecedented and difficult times, the right technology tools can support our communities in getting students back to school safely.

Jonathan Steel is a Director, Learning+ Lead on Buildings and our Portland Office Lead. Jonathan is an educational architect with over 15 years of experience in the design and construction of major K-12 and higher education facilities. He has worked with our global education team for over ten years. Jonathan has designed buildings for some of the most prestigious educational institutions globally, including three projects for Oxford University. He brings strong experience in business and personnel management to our Portland team, having built successful practices on both sides of the Atlantic during his career. He has previously acted as President of the Alberta Chapter of A4LE and has presented at conferences for the past several years.

Headshot of Jonathan Steel

Written by Jonathan Steel

Director, Learning+ Lead, Buildings | Office Lead, Portland
Portland, OR
Contact UsContact Us