Color in Schools: How to Brighten Up the Learning Environment

Anyone who's ever redecorated a room knows how a splash of color – or an entirely new color – can completely change the overall "feel" of the space.

This is especially true in learning environments. Color in schools have an enormous impact on students' emotions and mindset during the school day. In the past, schools were built to meet basic functional and financial requirements. Monotonous colors like off-white, beige, and gray dominated most classrooms and school hallways, and design was barely a consideration. Today, modern educational institutions are focusing on color and design to help define a space's purpose and identity, and improve teachers' and students' educational experience through the right aesthetic choices.  Color in Schools

Finding the right color balance in schools

When making interior design choices for a school setting, the goal should be to seek a balance between over-stimulation and lack of stimulation. To do this, it's important to understand the mental and emotional effects of each color, and what type of environment you wish to create. Research shows that primary and bold colors promote playfulness and positivity, which are ideal for preschool and elementary school environments. Subtle, cool and warm colors, on the other hand, are better for middle and high schools, as these colors promote concentration and relieve the feelings of anxiety that are common among students in this age group.

What impact do colors have on an environment?

If you're new to the concept of color theory, here's a brief overview of how common colors can impact a physical space and its occupants.
  • Red: Stimulant; provokes conversation; improves performance/concentration; spurs action.
  • Orange: Uplifting; stimulates critical thinking and memorization; increases appetite.
  • Yellow: Promotes awareness; helps to release serotonin for happy mood.
  • Green: Calming effect; stress reliever; promotes concentration
  • Blue: Enhances creativity and alertness; promotes tranquility; improves overall health, memory, and mood; lessens fatigue and depression.
  • Violet: Represents wisdom and authority; respectful.
  • Pink: Soothing; reduces heart rate; energizing effect (with saturated shades) or comforting effect (with paler shades).
  • Black: Promotes sophistication, security, and efficiency; the absence of color.
  • White: Conveys sterility, simplicity, clarity, and purity; hygienic. 
The Importance of Color

The best colors to use in school environments

How can you apply color theory to your school's interior design? Here are our recommendations for color choices for various settings within a school building. Classrooms – Blue is one of the most effective classroom colors. White can also be a good dominant color for a classroom if it's accompanied by a colorful accent wall. In small doses, yellow can be effective in maintaining students' awareness in the classroom. Libraries – Due to its positive effects on concentration, green is a great option for libraries, where students need to focus on their studies. Gymnasiums – Action-oriented red and highly-saturated pinks may encourage the necessary physical responses in a school gym setting. Cafeterias – Orange's impact on appetite makes it an appropriate color for a school cafeteria. Offices – Authoritative areas such as the principal's or guidance counselor's office may benefit from the atmosphere of respect created by violet tones. For the same reason, violet can be a great choice for an auditorium as well. Exposed Structures – Black is ideal for concealing any exposed structures in the school, as it creates the sense of void. Corridors and Lobbies - Learning and concentration are not the main objectives in public spaces like hallways and reception areas, so you can be a little more "free" with your color and design choices here. For instance, consider using the school's colors and logo to create a sense of pride and identity here.

Additional school design tips

To further enhance your learning environment, try some of these interior design tips:

1. Incorporate accent walls.

Accent walls – walls painted in a distinct color from the others in a room – can serve many design purposes in a school setting. You may be able to add interest or focus to a room, or strategically use an accent wall to make a room appear larger.  

2. Create visual focal points on walls.

In addition to color, you can hang wall graphics or paint murals on walls to create focal points in hallways and classrooms. Hanging quotes, tips, nature scenes, and other images on the wall can inspire and inform students, and also serve to underscore the school's values. These décor elements can also serve as "landmarks" to help students find their way around.

3. Consider color-coding different wings of the building.

To truly promote way-finding through your school's design, you may wish to color code certain locations throughout the building for easier navigation. Strategic color accents in places such as floor tiles, ceiling soffits, and wall alcoves can help students distinguish entryways from hallways. Color also triggers sensory receptors in the brain, which can improve recall abilities and help students locate specific sites within a given space. No matter what colors you choose to use in a learning environment, be sure to choose them with care and purpose. A thoughtfully-coordinated color scheme can provide a simple way to improve functionality, create a unified identity, and develop a sense of place within a school. Need help with a school interior design project? Contact Patrick S. Seiwell at DRG Architects to discuss your needs.

8 Applied Technologies That Have Improved Architectural Design and Engineering

Applied technologies like virtual reality, 3D printing, and drone photography have completely revolutionized the world of architecture and engineering.

From entertainment and photography to product development and retail sales, it’s hard to find an industry that hasn’t been impacted by the latest tech advances. Integrating such technologies into our architectural design and engineering services has allowed us to improve nearly every aspect of our clients’ end-to-end experience, including communication and speed of delivery, presentation, design quality, and building investigations. At DRG Architects, we integrate these nine applied technologies to create high-quality, value-added designs for our clients:

1. Virtual Reality

VR Architecture ApplicationsVirtual reality (VR) is an artificial experience generated by a computer. By wearing a headset, you can emerge yourself into a fully simulated environment, feeling as though you are actually among those very surroundings.

VR is typically used for educational and entertainment purposes, but it can also be used in design. For instance, we use virtual reality for 3D presentations to show clients their proposed designs. By wearing the headset and experiencing the design firsthand, clients can decide whether they approve before it is put into action.

2. Augmented Reality

Augmented Reality Architecture DesignWith augmented reality (AR), the virtual and real world seem to coexist. AR projects simulated elements, including computer graphics and sounds, onto the actual environment around you, typically by leveraging the camera on a mobile device or tablet.

AR allows architects to project their designs onto the empty site they’re working on, so clients can have a visual of the project within the given environment before construction begins.

3. Computer Renderings and Animations

3D Architecture RenderingsBy using 3D renderings and animations, designers can present their projects almost as if they are movie scenes, including special effects like lighting, furnishings, landscaping, vehicles, and even people.

Clients can experience a “walk-through” of the rendered building by accessing every part of the design, starting with the entrance and working through all proposed rooms. That way, they can request changes before committing to the project.

4. 3D Printing

3D Printing Architecture Models Engineering

3D printing turns digital files into dimensional objects by “slicing” the file into thin horizontal layers and melding them together.

By using 3D printing, we can create a physical model of our clients’ proposed designs, so they can gain a sense of the building’s scale, massing, and fenestration before committing to the construction. The models are intricate and detailed, so clients can truly visualize the proposed design on a smaller scale.

4. Building Information Modeling

Building information modeling (BIM) is a streamlined process that creates a single model encompassing all aspects, disciplines and systems of a building.

CAD 3D Computer Model Building Services

We use REVIT, an Autodesk BIM software, which helps us design, simulate and visualize the building structure. That way, everyone involved in the architectural and design process, from contractors to consultants, can collaborate more efficiently while generating savings in scheduling, project costs, change orders and general errors.

5. Clash Detection

Engineering Clash Detection ServicesClash detection software examines models and identifies any issues or interference between different building elements.

As designers and architects, we think it’s important to recognize potential risks before starting the construction process to avoid costly errors.


6. PlanGrid

PlanGrid Development Architecture and Engineering

PlanGrid holds field observations and surveys, allowing you to add markups, sketches, notes and photos. The software stores all information so that it’s readily available whenever access is needed, and is also used for analysis and development of as-built backgrounds.

This is great for the construction process as well, since it uses real-time updates and seamless file synchronization, so everyone can be an active part of the process.

7. 3D Laser Scanning

Lidar 3D Laser Scanning Architecture

3D laser scanning is the process of scanning objects or environments to understand their shapes and appearances. We integrate 3D laser scanning with software services that record and report information on existing conditions.

Our design teams then have insight on building components like wall and floor thickness and any inconsistencies found in the existing drawings. This serves as a reference tool to help designers verify information before moving forward with construction.

8. Drones

You likely know that drones can snap photos and record videos from an above view. This application of drone technology can be useful for designers as well. DRG uses drones for initial field survey, inspecting difficult-to-reach areas and identifying any issues or possible needs for investigation, which we then provide to office staff during the design and construction document phase. We also record progress during the construction process to showcase to clients. DRG prides itself in keeping on the cutting edge of drone photography as it applies to architecture and engineering.

Aerial Photo and Video for Architecture and Construction Engineering

As applied technology continues to evolve and improve over time, we pride ourselves on bringing cutting-edge solutions to our architectural design and engineering services. If you want to incorporate the latest tech into your next building project, contact DRG Architects for a proposal.

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Lighting’s Role in the Classroom

Written By: Emma Seiwell

Our environments impact our feelings and moods, which in turn shape the experience we have in a given space. It’s critical to understand that the spaces we occupy in our day-to-day lives are never neutral. Classrooms- a central space in everyone’s young lives, should be thoughtfully designed to maximize comfort and functionality. School design, which once took a one size fits all approach, with an emphasis on affordability, has come a long way. Slowly, school design has evolved in accent with changes in learning techniques and the integration of technology. Studies have proven a clear link between school design and student performance. Lighting is perhaps the most critical element to consider for effective classroom design. The quality and color of lighting can impair or enhance a student’s visual skills and consequently their academic performance. Aside from the obvious function of illumination for vision, light regulates a number of our bodily processes including circadian rhythm, sleep, cognition, mood, rest-activity patterns, and the production of important hormones such as melatonin and cortisol. Different kinds of lighting have varying effects on these processes. Successful classroom lighting design will harness these processes strategically to successfully achieve varying learning objectives. In the past, fluorescent lights were the standard and most cost-effective choice for schools. It’s since been determined that fluorescents cause discomfort and impair visual performance due to their nearly imperceptible flicker and the glare they create when combined with daylight. This inadequate lighting can cause anxiety, bodily stress, and even hyperactivity in students. Windows in a classroom have always been assumed as a means to distract students. This logic doesn’t truly add up. Science proves that windows offer the most ideal lighting source for a classroom. Sunlight exposure to our eyes or skin initiates the production of serotonin. This increase in serotonin boosts mood and helps a person stay focused and calm. Sunlight also resets our circadian rhythms or our internal clocks. This reset causes students to experience an increase in alertness and an overall improvement in academic performance. A study published in 1999 found that incorporation of natural light in classrooms significantly improved student scores on standardized tests. The study observed 21,000 elementary-school students in three states: California, Colorado, and Washington. Over the course of a year, students with the most natural light in their classroom progressed 20 percent faster in math and 26 percent faster in reading than students with the least amount of light in the Capistrano school district in California. Aside from their beneficial effects on students and teachers, natural light is a cost-effective way to light classrooms too. Utilities account for a significant portion of a school’s budget. On average, 26% of a school’s electricity usage is for lighting. (pg. 178) With the installation of more windows, schools can take advantage of sunlight to reduce electricity usage. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reported that schools can save approximately 30 percent on energy costs by installing more windows or full-spectrum lighting. Furthermore, daylighting classrooms serves as an eco-friendlier option since electricity generation can produce an abundance of greenhouse gases, depending on the source. Where windows can’t be easily incorporated into a classroom’s design, light-emitting diode (LED) lights are the next best alternative. LEDs can produce a distinct blue light that imitates sunlight nearly identically and therefore has the same beneficial effects. Recently, there have been advances in LED-based “Human Centric Lighting.” This type of lighting system offers adjustable intensity and temperature of light to incrementally imitate the changing characteristics of daylight throughout the day. By simulating the sun, these man-made lights follow the patterns of light that we have become evolutionarily accustomed to. This careful manipulation of light can have a biologically optimal effect on students and teachers alike. The alignment between our environment and this internal biological process improves our quality of sleep, alertness, metabolism and overall, well-being. The wrong lighting can misalign this internal clock and lead to poor sleep and a subsequent negative effect on cognitive functioning and academic performance. Sources Cheryan, Sapna et al. "Designing Classrooms To Maximize Student Achievement". Policy Insights From The Behavioral And Brain Sciences, vol 1, no. 1, 2014, p. 5. SAGE Publications, doi:10.1177/2372732214548677. Facility Type: K-12 Schools, Technical Recommendations". Energystar.Gov, 2006, https://www.energystar.gov/sites/default/files/buildings/tools/EPA_BUM_Full.pdf. Heschong Mahone Group. Daylighting In Schools: An Investigation Into The Relationship Between Daylighting And Human Performance. Fair Oaks, CA 95628, 1999, https://h-m-g.com/downloads/Daylighting/schoolc.pdf. Mott, Michael S., et al. “Illuminating the Effects of Dynamic Lighting on Student Learning.” SAGE Open, Apr. 2012, doi:10.1177/2158244012445585. Uncapher, Melina. "The Science Of Effective Learning Spaces". Edutopia, 2016, https://www.edutopia.org/article/science-of-effective-learning-spaces-melina-uncapher.

7 Innovative Design Ideas for an Educational Building

Written by: Natalie Akins, Innovative Building Materials

Higher education has been forced to adapt on the fly in recent years. Mounting student debt, a heightened focus on student rights and safety, the shift to online learning, and the massive changes wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic are just a few of the forces influencing the industry. As a result, educational buildings must evolve to match the demands of this shifting landscape. The following breakdown looks at 7 of the most innovative design ideas for modern educational buildings.

1. Exterior Study Areas

Although there had been an increasing interest in creating transitional interior/exterior spaces prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the global health crisis accelerated this trend. In order to ensure that building occupants are able to get a healthy dose of fresh air throughout the day, many buildings are now transforming seldom-used patios, landings, and breezeways into functional open-air workspaces. Through the use of durable and stylish patio furniture and the premier shading devices in architecture, colleges and universities are able to create top-notch outdoor lecture spaces and study areas that not only provide a change of scenery for faculty and students but guarantee fresh air and help accommodate social distancing in the event that variants of the virus continue to linger.

2. Socially Separated Spaces

While innovative exterior work areas do wonders for providing social distance, there will remain plenty of times throughout the year when the comfort of the indoors is necessary for a hospitable learning environment. As a result, interior design efforts for educational facilities are taking marked efforts to help create socially separated spaces. Some key features of creating a socially distanced classroom include:
  • The most durable flooring, such as terrazzo or polished concrete, allows desks and furniture to be easily moved without defacing their appearance
  • Stylish area rugs and mats to help indicate which areas of the room can be utilized and which should be avoided
  • Modular glass partitions that can be used to easily create small cohorts without blocking light flow in the room

3. Designing for Security

Image courtesy of: https://mankato.mnsu.edu/university-life/health-and-safety/university-security/ Social distancing is just one safety consideration for which contemporary educational buildings must account. They must also be well-equipped to handle a safe, secure environment.
  • Controlled door access
  • Cell phone apps for door access
  • Cell phone alerts
  • Coordination with local public safety for responsiveness
  • Conduct facilities and site assessments
  • Staff & student safety training/education
  • Security surveillance
  • Defining boundaries
  • Defined safe areas

4. Personalized Living Spaces

Educational buildings are increasingly being forced to adapt to a hybrid learning environment. As a result, the stiff, barracks-style residence halls prevalent on college campuses for decades are quickly becoming a thing of the past. Educational living spaces are shifting to provide more homey features to compete in an environment in which many students are choosing to obtain their higher education from home. Some of the innovative features in modern educational living spaces include:
  • Increased study space in rooms, with easy-to-clean desks and comfortable chairs to accommodate students with online classes
  • Fitness centers in the residence halls themselves, eliminating the need to trek across campus to the rec center
  • Built-in dining areas on each floor of the building to accommodate the exploding meal delivery industry
  • Group study areas in residence halls

5. Decorative Sound Insulation

Sound insulation has long been a priority in educational buildings, as preventing distracting noise transfer is an important component of ensuring academic success. However, much of the drop-ceiling insulation traditionally used in areas such as libraries and auditoriums have been utilitarian, at best. Fortunately, modern acoustic ceiling tiles are not only 95% effective at dampening noise transfer but also come in a wide array of decorative designs that can enhance a building’s interior ambiance to promote creativity in students. New building and building renovations consulting teams should include an acoustical consultant to ensure sound transmission is considered in the design of each space.

6. Focus on Flex Spaces

Another byproduct of the shift to hybrid learning is the increased prevalence of academic flex spaces. To remain competitive as much of higher education moves online, modern educational buildings must have unmatched technology tools and broadband access. Learning environments must be equipped with collaborative technology, such as projector screens, smart televisions, and phone apps for locking and other system controls. They must also have flexible and adaptable furnishings that can be easily rearranged to accommodate different size groups and cohorts or allow for access to charging centers.

7. Sustainability/WELLCentric

As the world focuses on ways to lower its carbon footprint, educational buildings must be designed with sustainability in mind. Some common features of environmentally friendly educational design include:
  • Using repurposed furniture or furniture made from recycled polymers
  • Choosing insulated concrete forms as a framing option, as icf school construction not only improves safety, but its elite thermal mass helps regulate interior temperatures is just one of many exciting building options
  • Incorporating large windows throughout the building to promote the flow of natural sunlight
  • Installing below-grade insulation to keep hard flooring warm during the colder months of the year
  • Following the WELL Building standard - The WELL Building Standard allows organizations to deliver more thoughtful and intentional spaces that enhance health and well-being. Backed by the latest scientific research, WELL includes strategies that aim to advance health by setting performance standards for design interventions, operational protocols, and policies and a commitment to fostering a culture of health and well-being.

The Most Innovative Design Ideas for Educational Buildings

A host of powerful forces have put pressure on the traditional higher education blueprint. Therefore, college campuses must adapt to meet the needs of contemporary students. The 7 design ideas for educational buildings listed above are great ways to keep college campuses attractive in the rapidly evolving higher education landscape. Natalie Akins is an editor for the Innovative Building Materials blog and a content writer for the building materials industry. She is focused on helping fellow homeowners, contractors, and architects discover materials and methods of construction that save money, improve energy efficiency, and increase property value. Need help with a higher education project? Contact Patrick S. Seiwell at DRG Architects to discuss your needs.

Designing for the Modern Tenant

Written by: Laura Colgan   Multifamily and mixed-use developments have seen a recent shift in tenant values in the last few years. Environments conducive to wellness, adaptive multi-use spaces, incorporation of new technology, and proximity to conveniences are at the forefront. While high-end finishes and grand architectural gestures make bold first impressions, what drives a tenant’s decision is the positive impact a space has on their quality of life. Gathering and applying this knowledge during the design development phase will maximize the opportunity for tenant satisfaction.   As of January 2023, only 37% of CRE professionals polled use tenant surveys to influence design development. Lifestyles have abruptly changed in the last few years; it is more important now than ever to understand the needs of prospective tenants and communities.  
The following are four strategies to help position new multifamily and mixed-use developments for success.


Market analysis conducted before the design development phase produces critical information to guide the design process. Current market trends on a broad and local scale, population and business demographics, and strengths and shortcomings of local competitors all impact the design approach for new mixed-use development. An often overlooked market research strategy is engaging directly with the community. This strategy offers the opportunity to understand better how the community functions. Embracing community input and integrating feedback into new mixed-use developments will strengthen local support and provide critical insights.


One tenant need on the rise is living and working in environments that support wellness and wellness practices. The demand for wellness real estate has tripled since 2020 and will remain at the forefront of the industry in the coming years. Spaces that promote improved health and the flexibility to accommodate wellness practices are high-value features for new tenants. Focusing on sustainable materials, incorporating biophilic design principles, including state-of-the-art wellness amenities, and encouraging prosocial behavior through design will place new developments above the rest.


The rise in remote and hybrid work has significantly impacted the use of new technology in mixed-use developments. Tenants expect basic tech amenities, once considered luxuries, to make life more efficient. Keyless entry and locking, in-unit security video systems, and utility controls via smartphone are some examples of tech considered standard in the most cutting-edge developments. Furthermore, utilizing smart technology is proven to decrease maintenance costs and improve the overall efficiency of building systems through proactive system assessment technology.


While it is essential to meet the needs of the modern tenant in-unit, it is also vital to consider how the development will function within the surrounding community. The 20-minute neighborhood is a design concept that makes achieving daily tasks efficient and easily accessible to tenants within a 20-minute radius. This growing trend has proven to improve quality of life, increase property value, and have positive environmental impacts across the US, Europe, and Australia. Creating these walkable neighborhood-like developments promotes wellness and a sense of community, reduces carbon emissions, and attracts new tenants who align with these values.    

Hidden Language

Frank Parga with his mural, Hidden LanguageHidden Language, a mural by Frank Parga, adorns the lobby of DRG Architects' recently completed Hungerford School.
Hidden Language is a site-specific artwork created by Frank Parga for the lobby of the new Richard H. Hungerford School, Staten Island. It was inspired by the tulip trees found in the forest next to the school campus. The work is made of regionally sourced red oak wood panels that were cut, carved and hand-painted to look like a cross-section of a gigantic tree with its annual growth rings highlighted. Newly formed cells create the annual rings that provide information about a tree’s age and the environmental conditions that shaped its life. Each has its own variations in width dependent upon climate and atmospheric conditions among many other details. Thus, the rings are the tree’s “hidden language” revealing a record of its history and life. Hidden Language was created to be both visually engaging and experiential. The artwork is intended to be experienced by touch where the tree rings are raised higher than the wood base. The piece offers viewers a moment to reflect on how every individual is shaped by their surroundings and interactions and has an opportunity to leave a mark on the people and places they encounter.

Text courtesy of the NYC School Construction Authority/Public Art for Public Schools program

Frank Parga - artist, muralist, and educator - has murals all around NYC. His work adorns walls in hospitals, hotels, office buildings, schools, and public spaces. He has been awarded grants, fellowships, and residencies from organizations nationwide, including Joshua Tree National Park, the Weir Farm Trust, Earthwatch Institute, the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, and the Visual Harlem Grant Program, among others. In addition to his artistic work, Frank is an educator and mentor for students at all levels.   Hidden Language was created as a part of the NYCSCA’s Public Art for Public Schools program. The program commissions artists to create on-campus pieces that are meant to “visually enhance the learning environment, serve as unique and exciting resources for teaching, and most of all, inspire students.” It is important that the artworks can be interpreted at many levels, so that learners can continue to engage as they grow physically and intellectually. Since the program’s inception in 1989, it has supported the creation and conservation of nearly 2000 artworks in New York City public schools. A close up of Frank Parga's mural, Hidden Language To learn more about Frank Parga and his work, visit his website. To read more about the NYCSCA's Public Art for Public Schools program and its art collection, visit their website.
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