About GenslerOnCities

What makes cities tick? GenslerOnCities explores the planning, design, and the potential futures of urban landscapes.

Search GenslerOn
Cities Topics
Connect with Us
« Join Gensler at SXSW 2017 | Main | Let’s Get Physical: Design Possibilities for the Digital Classroom »

XQ: A Chance to Rethink High School in My Backyard

Image courtesy of Ashley Marsh.

When the opportunity came to contribute to XQ: The Super School Project a year ago, I jumped in. As a resident of West Oakland, it was, after all, a moment to do something in my backyard.

In September 2016, our team at Gensler San Francisco was one of 10 teams (including a team from Gensler Los Angeles, which supported RISE High) to win the XQ: The Super School Project’s $10 million dollar prize for our redesign of the American high school. Our proposed school, Summit Elevate, is to be located in Oakland, Calif., and aims to embody the natural evolution of Summit Public Schools’ effective personalized learning model.

A collaborative effort, my team was led by Summit Public Schools, and included other key partners such as Oakland Unified School District, California College of the Arts, and the Office of Mayor Libby Schaaf, City of Oakland. Despite being the team’s learning environment design expertise, I was adamant we did not wear our architect hat. At least not right away. Instead, I wanted to bring Gensler’s strategic consulting services to help the application be deeply insight driven, as well as something that would positively disrupt the education space. As the lead designer and facilitator of the team’s stakeholder and community engagement process, I leveraged the “qualities of an XQ learner” to help us gather deep and meaningful insights from Oakland community members, faculty, parents, students and local employers. In addition, my Gensler colleagues helped me craft a compelling visual narrative to accompany our submission.

Photo courtesy of XQ America.

Most significantly for me personally, the environment will also be informed by the depth of research I’ve been conducting as a part of a multi-year collaboration with the Silicon Schools Fund. (Check out my previous post on empowered learning environments.) Summit Elevate will be a place to demonstrate what we’ve learned and build a space as audacious as the autonomous, empowered-learner model it supports.

I once heard someone say, “the school you make is the future you make.” Education today is impersonal, especially when you look at the average environment of a 10th grader. As design strategists at Gensler, my team is helping schools to not only alleviate students’ struggle to stay engaged, but to create citizens who elevate America’s future. To quote Arthur Gensler, our founder and a driving force behind the XQ partnership, “Education needs a radical change in the way it’s being addressed. We have to create an environment and a facility that can adapt to new ways of change.” I couldn’t agree more.

What’s Next

As my colleague Kevin Rosenstein so eloquently said, “Each day we are striving to use design, and specifically design of the built environment, to improve our world.” I’m looking forward to sharing more updates on this school in my backyard. Keep reading here at GenslerOn and our official Summit Elevate site.

Ashley Marsh, Associate, AIA, is a design strategist in Gensler’s San Francisco office. Ashley is driven to translate spatial implications of our rewired culture of life, learning and play and works across a full spectrum of education, creative and not-for-profit organizations. Contact her at Ashley_Marsh@gensler.com.