The surprising educational history of the Stanford Federal Credit Union building

Federal Credit Building
The Stanford Federal Credit Union building was initially designed as a prototype for the School Construction System Design at the then-Stanford School of Education.

As part of its centennial celebrations, the Graduate School of Education is featuring “Ideas Born at GSE” on its website.

The story called “A gleaming pavilion for teaching and learning” by BARBARA WILCOX reveals the surprising fact that the Stanford Federal Credit Union building on Pampas Lane was once a prototype of School Construction Systems Design, a historic experiment at the then-Stanford School of Education.

GSE logoThe project aimed to create more flexible, affordable and efficient schools by building them with standardized modular components. Wilcox writes:

“The brainchild of famed architect Ezra Ehrenkrantz and educational researchers, Stanford’s building heralded new ways of planning, bidding out and erecting nonresidential structures. All of its systems – heating, air-conditioning, electricity – were housed in the roof. It had no fixed interior walls, only movable partitions to form varied sizes and types of classrooms in line with teacher needs.

Its glass walls and elegant lines evoke Mies van der Rohe, the great modernist architect who championed architectural systems and the rationality they embodied, said PAUL TURNER, professor emeritus of art and art history at Stanford.

“It’s probably the only building on campus in the Mies van der Rohe tradition, and it deserves to be better known,” Turner said.

The SCSD building reflects a time and a school of thought in which educators at Stanford and elsewhere aimed to change learning by changing its physical environment – buildings, furnishings, scheduling. They sought new facilities suited to team teaching and individualized instruction.

Meanwhile, the population boom of the 1950s and 1960s, especially on the West Coast, called for new ways to plan, build and manage schools – and fast.

The School of Education’s School Planning Laboratory, which hosted SCSD, opened in 1951 to tackle these challenges. Many classroom features we take for granted – movable classroom partitions and seating, pegboard walls, carpeted floors and flexible scheduling – were developed or popularized by JAMES MacCONNELL and his lab in the cavernous basement of the School of Education building.

The lab was funded in large part by the Ford Foundation’s Educational Facilities Laboratory, whose director, ALVIN EURICH, was a former Stanford acting president and School of Education dean.”

Read the entire story on the Graduate School of Education website.