As part of its ongoing mission “to empower young people to own their economic success and succeed in a global economy”, one of Junior Achievement of Central Virginia’s (JACV) major initiatives has been its JA Finance Park.
In partnership with the school systems of central Virginia, middle and high school students receive in-school curriculum that introduces them to personal financial planning and career exploration. At the culmination of the program, students visit the Finance Park to put into practice what they have learned. Having outgrown its former location, JACV partnered with Henrico County to design a new Finance Park on the third floor of the County’s Libbie Mill Library.
The design goal of the new Finance Park was to connect students with the seriousness and importance of financial literacy. The design team sought to create a dynamic and interactive project-based learning environment outfitted with a simple, yet sophisticated, palette of materials and colors. The space was intentionally designed to be more business-like than school-like.
A primary design element within the Finance Park is a design element referred to as the “thread”. Composed of a series of vertical structures fabricated from plywood and steel, the thread serves as an organizing element within the mostly open space. It runs continuously from the public elevators at one end to the Career Center at the opposite, and it defines the edge of the central meeting and orientation space that serves as the locus for students when they start their day at the Park.
Following orientation each student is given a device from the built-in tablet wall that contains their digital persona. Students then disperse into small groups that gather in each of the eighteen business centers that are distributed throughout the Finance Park. Each business center is managed by a corporate volunteer and is outfitted with interactive monitors allowing the students to research and collect data to build their personal financial plan. The design of the business center is created from a simple kit of parts using plywood and steel as the main building components. The modularity of these components facilitated easier constructability and allows for the Park to adapt over time. In addition to being a cost-effective material, the plywood panels provide a neutral backdrop for corporate sponsorship signage.
The design team incorporated the vibrant colors of JACV’s brand into the finishes of the space; using concentrations of green carpet to emphasize the central student meeting / gathering spot. The hexagonal carpet tile colors and patterns throughout the Finance Park define spatial functions and reinforce the playful geometry of the space. An exposed ceiling provides welcoming height along the thread wall and primary gathering areas, while a lower acoustic ceiling in the business centers helps to support focused group work. The furnishings of the business centers are minimal - a large acoustic lamp shade anchors a round table, and rocking stools in JACV’s brand color support active, engaged learning.