New London Architecture

Preparing Classrooms for a Return to School During the Pandemic

Wednesday 28 October 2020

Jonathan Steel

Director, Office Lead
IBI Group

In the midst of a global pandemic, many schools find themselves engaged in the challenge of bringing students back to school for in-person learning. Caused by one of the largest-scale problems we’ve ever faced, it’s a difficult situation to navigate. Each geographic area has their own protocols in place for students to go back to the classroom, meaning there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. Fortunately, technology can help. We can utilize technological tools to create flexible solutions that account for a variety of requirements. In doing so, we can support students, teachers, and parents and assist in this difficult time.

As students get back to school, following physical distancing guidelines is key to staying safe. How can schools find efficient solutions, considering student capacity, to optimize current available space? A tool such as the “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 policy relative to mask wearing, changes in the mutation of the virus, different desk dimensions, and types of activities.

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



Jonathan Steel

Director, Office Lead
IBI Group


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