Experience by Design

Designing Environments for Learning with Mary Ruppenthal

Episode Summary

In this episode of Experience by Design, we welcome Mary Ruppenthal, Associate Principal at HED, one of the oldest and largest architecture and engineering firms in the United States. Mary has a career of experience working with educational institutions and communities to create learning solutions that serve more than just students. We explore how the next generation of educational environments are being built for multiple purposes beyond what happens in the classroom. She shares lessons of navigating the politics of design, divergent stakeholder perspectives, considering sustainability, and emerging trends. She describes how heading up these projects is like creating music with our clients so that together they can produce beautiful harmonies.

Episode Notes

It is not like we need a building in which to teach. Thinking back to Socrates, he was conducting his teaching in an open-air market, influencing younger generations to the point where he was forced to drink hemlock. At the same, a good educational structure can help. I have taught in a variety of environments, and have seen educational technology go from transparencies to PowerPoints and now Open AI. I have taught in amphitheater set ups, rooms with rolling desks, long tables, and small conference rooms. I’ve had chalkboards and white boards and smart boards. I’ve been in old building and new buildings and everything in between. The question always remains how best to create a structure in which teachers and students can come together to create learning experiences. 

There is a saying in design that all design projects are political, involving different stakeholders, points of view, and institutional power. Designing educational environments is no different. Working for about a quarter century in higher ed has taught me that when going into an educational design project, we need to be prepared to blend the old and the new, the young and the established, the administration and faculty, corporate and academic, and many other groups. This makes the process of creating a design very arduous before the cornerstone is laid.

Today in the Experience by Design Studio, we’re excited to welcome Mary Ruppenthal. Mary is a registered architect, an ESG advocate and associate principal at HED, one of the oldest and largest architecture and engineering firms in the country. She oversees PreK-12 and community education projects at HED and is a specialist in flexible and adaptive learning environments and incorporating wellness into educational and space design.

In today’s conversation we set a baseline around the rise of mental health and wellness in not just educational spaces, but spaces for everyday life. Think schools not just as educational centers, but as community centers that can serve families as well as students. We also explore designing with and for nature, such as biophilic design, and also like nature, we explore dynamism in design such as spaces that can change and adapt to different size groups and informational changes on screens.