Architect's vision sparks Hillel school transformation
Farmington Hills – — Jacob Banooni, 12, excitedly showed off an orange comb to a visitor at Hillel Day School of Metropolitan Detroit.
But not just any comb and not just any visitor.
The comb was created by Jacob with a new 3-D printer, and the guest was Prakash Nair, president and a founding partner of Fielding Nair International, which designed the $5.3 million transformation of part of the Oakland County school. The 3-D printer was part of the technology upgrades.
"I always enjoyed building things from nothing, and always wanted to have a space and things that would help me make them," said Jacob, a seventh-grader.
"Now we have this space and these tools so our imagination is unlimited."
It was Nair's first visit to the school, with an enrollment of about 500, since the makeover was completed last month. Hillel is an independent Jewish school encompassing early childhood through eighth grade.
Nair said the project began in mid-December 2013. He reiterated his philosophy that it's not about architecture, it's about education, and there needs to be a paradigm shift in how educators think about teaching students.
"When students are sitting in a classroom for long periods of time, they are limited in the kinds of learning they can do," said Nair. "So rather than give them a rich and authentic experience, we trap them in boxes and seat them in cheap plastic chairs for six hours a day."
He added, "Kids should be active, engaged and should be working on things that excite them."
The school's renovation is happening in phases. The first three included what is called the heart of the building, an open space with new seating, a fireplace and a graffiti wall on which students are encouraged to draw. The innovation hub contains an audiovisual studio, new art, science and music studios, interactive televisions and work spaces that foster collaboration and small group learning.
There also are three new cafeterias.
The next phase will include renovating classrooms for an additional estimated $5 million.
Alyssa Endelman of West Bloomfield was among parents and administrators from other districts who attended the session at the school with Nair. She has two children, one in kindergarten and a third-grader at the school.
"This is an amazing space, and it gives our kids an opportunity to advance in a changing world," she said. "My kids are thrilled to have this opportunity to come here every day."
Nair is the president and a founding partner of Fielding Nair International, an education facilities planning and design firm whose vision is to improve the ways students learn.
He visited the school last week to discuss teaching in the 21st century and how to better prepare students for their future. Nair also is the author of the recently published "Blueprint for Tomorrow: Redesigning Schools for Student-Centered Learning" and "The Language of School Design" in 2005.
Fielding Nair International, which plans and designs school facilities, has clients in 43 countries across six continents, including Indonesia, Canada, Belgium and Ukraine.
Closer to home, the firm's work includes projects such as the new Bloomfield Hills High School, which is scheduled for completion by next fall.
Visitors from other school districts, including Farmington and Cranbrook, participated in Nair's presentation at Hillel, and toured the innovation hub.
Head of School Steve Freedman said the goal is to "transform Hillel completely."
"The dream is that within the next three to five years, the transformation will be complete," he said.
"The No. 1 issue is to have a partnership decision between leadership and teachers, and teachers need to be ready to take the next step."