Friday, August 28, 2009

A Tribute to Dr. Jeff Lackney

Thousands of people around the world have followed Jeff Lackney’s educational design research and practice since 1998 on DesignShare. Several of us at DesignShare and Fielding Nair International owe a deep debt of gratitude to Jeff for showing us so many tangible ways of changing the world, one school at a time. Beyond the dozens of original publications that he authored, Jeff has contributed a significant body of work to the global school design profession as a Senior Design Architect with Fielding Nair International.

This is a tribute to Jeff and a place to record his legacy. As many know, Jeff has been battling liver cancer and is seriously ill. However, since being diagnosed more than two years ago, Jeff has dealt with his grave illness with the courage and grace that has characterized his whole life, beating the odds time and again to the bafflement of his attending physicians. Where others might simply have given up, Jeff embraced life with even more vigor, devoting time to his family and also traveling to many exotic locations around the world to work on school projects. As a result, he has continued to produce outstanding and truly original designs that will benefit dozens of communities and thousands of children for many years to come.

We encourage you to use this blog to share your thanks and memorable stories about the impact Jeff has had on you.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

From our Virtual Office...

Salt Lake City with the boys. Girls have girl-talk...and boys definitely have boy-talk!! Let’s see I was newly pregnant and not telling anyone yet. I was exhausted, nauseous, and easily irritated. But I tried my best to smile through it all during a 2-day design charrette for the Almaty School project in Kazakhstan. I was thrilled and excited to be apart of the project! It was my first true design project with FNI. It was going to be hard work and the concepts that Jeff and Randy had developed already were truly inspiring. But little did I know that I would have to spend the next couple of days with two cerebral, babbling men - Bert and Jeff. Oh, the banter! Oh, the scientific jargon and talks about black holes and 5th senses and whatever else they ranted on about (I think I blocked it all out!). My tired, cranky, and constantly starving pregnant self was about to reach the end of the rope with these two going on and on...and on and on and on! They were truly acting like little kids in a candy shop! Giggling and bantering back and forth. And at dinner, they must have thought I was such a stinker because I wouldn’t have a beer and was actually starting to doze off! Did I mention that I was pregnant at this time?! But regardless, a few weeks after the trip, I started to tell people the news - and I hoped that Jeff and Bert would understand my cranky behavior. We went on to design a beautiful school with a river running though it and large balconies all within a glass box. It was my first true design project with FNI and Jeff was a wonderful teacher and guide. Working directly with him on that project, I really came to understand what the principles were for this 21st century school design - and how the design patterns were being interpreted creatively and functionally. I have truly learned from the best - through his humor, sincerity, and patience. Thank you, Jeff! I do want to mention one more thing - because there have been so many changes at FNI in the last year. My first year at FNI was so different than it is now....and I know it was because of Jeff’s involvement. We were a smaller group then and there was always learning and discussions and lengthy intellectual emails circulating....Jeff was always sharing something for or an interesting article or a video of a lecture from a conference he had attended. We would all join in and comment and add to these discussions. This made FNI such a great group to work with - we are constantly learning and sharing. Since Jeff has had to focus more and more on his health this past year - that piece has been missing. I hope we can regain that piece! You are truly an inspiration and always pushing those around you to think bigger, think grander, think of more possibilities and more ideas and more about how we can transform they way we think and view the world. That’s the Jeff I know. And I miss you in our little virtual office! Come back and visit.

-- Jen Lamar


Jeff, alwys the teacher, with David Schrader and partner Bruce Bachtel of Schrader Group Architects on a Florida Inland Waterwayboat.
Jeff with David Anstrand, Ed. Kirkbride and Catherine Burke at her book signing "The School I'd Like" March 2007.

-- Ed Kirbride

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


When I began my graduate studies at the University of Wisconsin, I was doing what research students do best - googling - when I came across Jeff's work. Low and behold, Jeff was located in Madison, just blocks from campus, and a leading expert in exactly what I aimed to master as well. His pattern language and theoretical work captivated me and before I knew it, I had Jeff on the phone. Getting a hold of him 3 years ago was no easy task, as he was constantly on the road, just as he was the first time we spoke. He agreed not only to spend an hour on the phone with a student he'd never met, but also to serve as a mentor for an independent study my second semester. He assigned a number of case studies and provided tips for how to best lay out my findings in a meaningful way. Three semesters later I had what I am proud to call a pretty darn good thesis, and I owe my success in large part to Jeff. When the time came for me to tie up loose ends at the University, Jeff continued to support and tout my work. He managed to find some odd jobs for me at FNI and I jumped at the chance. In the past year and a half, I've been fortunate enough to become a part of the team and learn and grow from Jeff's wisdom. I truly can't imagine where I would be today without you, Jeff.

-- Clare Friedrich, Educational Planner, FNI & Director of Operations, DesignShare

Tuesday, August 25, 2009


Jeff, Jill and Nick with John and Donna Sole's Iguana at a Philly summer party in their honor.

-- Ed Kirkbride


In the Summer of 2007 Jeff, Jill & Nick (better known as Mr. Baseball) visited our Philadelphia area and went fishing here in Chester County, PA. It was one of those picture card perfect August days for catching a whale of a story!

-- Ed Kirkbride

Monday, August 24, 2009


This Blog Entry is from Randy Fielding:

In the design world, there is often a break between analytical and artistic intelligence. Most of us are more comfortable in one realm than the other, and emphasize either words or images as our primary tools for expression.

Remarkably, Jeff can alternate between analysis and art with a rapid, dazzling brilliance.

For example, during the discovery phase of Cristo Rey High School, we surveyed the opinions of the educational leadership team regarding their reading of Prakash Nair's 30 Strategies for Educational Reform. We knew that the responses were important in determining the right kind of learning environment for Cristo Rey. The question became: how do we tabulate the data to make it readily usable as designers?

Jeff created a weighted spreadsheet that organized the responses into categories that immediately established clear design priorities. We have since used his weighting process on dozens of projects around the world to create data-driven designs--plans that respond authentically to local needs within the context of a research-based and global context.

After tabulating the data on educational strategies for Cristo Rey, Jeff went on to turn rough workshop design diagrams produced by stakeholders into elegantly annotated pattern drawings with the colorful flair that we might expect from Picasso.

The planning team was blown away by the design pattern workbook that Jeff created, which alternated between richly-textured images and data mined from our experiences together. As a designer, I felt wonderfully armed with an integrated palette of words, numbers and diagrams.

Jeff is a hero in the field of research-based design. In both the designs that he created and in the processes that he pioneered, Jeff has led the way. His legacy will be felt by generations of learners in environments that nurture mind, body, and spirit.

I took this photo of Jeff on the "Endless Bridge" at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis -- a wonderful metaphor for Jeff own legacy -- an endless bridge between art and science.

Sunday, August 23, 2009


Too many good stories about travels with Jeff. here is one.

Whenever the Three Musketeers (Randy, Jeff and Prakash) travel together, we make it a habit to stay at places that have good hot-tubs. Why? So we can hold our business meetings there. And so it came to be that many of the great ideas you see in the projects we have worked on together were actually generated by the brotherhood in hot tubs around the world. Maybe we have now started a new trend and companies will be rushing out to replace their conference rooms with hot tubs! Not as wacky an idea as it sounds -- hey, it works for us :)

Couldn’t find picture of us in hot tub but here we are hanging out at Duke Forest – site of the new Duke Middle School -- one of Jeff's professional babies.


This story is a good one to illustrate Jeff’s prodigious talent as a designer. A couple of years ago, I was working with a progressive community on the outskirts of Melbourne, Australia on a Middle and High School project. After a tough day of workshops and some ambitious design ideas on the wish-list, I got back to the hotel room late in the evening and skyped Jeff to ask for help. I passed on the site info and all the notes from the day’s meetings and asked him if he could sketch something for me to show the clients the next day (since it was still early in the morning for Jeff, he could work while I slept – thus giving us a 24-hour work window). Anyway, I went to bed not expecting much. Opened up email early the next morning and I saw design solutions that (I thought) were absolutely brilliant and had tackled all the tough challenges of the site while meeting every one of the client’s needs. Later that morning, with a large group of school people assembled, I presented a PowerPoint featuring Jeff’s magic from the night before. During the presentation, I was looking at the faces of the two women educators who were leading the charge on the client school’s behalf and when I finished, I saw them sitting there saying nothing at all! One minute passed and then almost another minute went by and I thought – “damn – they did not get it!” Just then, one of the women spoke up in a tremulous voice looking at her colleague. “I was too choked up to talk. Is that why you are silent also?” In response, women #2 just nodded her head vigorously in agreement and soon both had tears streaming down their cheeks along with radiant smiles that told the whole story about what this design meant to them. In my lifetime, I have met many good, even great designers. But I don’t know anyone who could evoke the kind of awed responses to their work like Jeff has been able to. Hats off to you my friend. It has been an honor and a privilege to work for so many years beside the One. Or maybe I should say, The One and Only. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Picture shows suited and booted Jeff during site walk with colleagues at Porirua College in New Zealand.


What does a beachfront hotel in Phuket, Thailand, a Rooftop in a classy Malaysian Hotel and Windsor Park in Tampa, Florida have in common? They all feature great tennis courts and Jeff and I have had the unusual experience of playing competitive games in each of these locations. Nothing to blog about – usually. But each of my tennis games with Jeff occurred within short weeks of some major medical procedure or the other that would have knocked mere mortals off their feet. But not Jeff. Rather than sit in his balcony window and enjoy the sunrise across the ocean, he and I spent several exhausting hours fighting tooth and nail on the tennis courts in Phuket. This experience was repeated a few months later at the tennis courts by my home in Tampa and then later when we traveled to Malaysia to work on a school project there. I guess I could have taken it easy on him and let him win – hey he was already a winner by simply stepping out onto the courts! But I knew Jeff would not want that and so we went at it with complete abandon forgetting for those precious moments his illness and all the reasons why he should not be pushing himself to the limits of his physical endurance in his weakened state. If one were judging by his life experiences alone, or his Joie de Vivre, it is a safe bet that Jeff has lived well over a hundred years. Certainly, he has contributed more to society, to his family and to the children of the world than many of us would ever be able to in several lifetimes.
Photo shows Jeff resting up at restaurant at the foot of the Petronas Towers in Malaysia after intense tennis session followed by workshops for new International school in Malaysia-Singapore border town of Nusajaya.


Just three months after Jeff had recovered from a major cancer operation that excised much of his liver, he attended a Microsoft-sponsored conference in icy-cold Oulu, Finland which featured gusts from innovative schools in 13 countries. After the obligatory conference presentations (of which Jeff did one that I still refer to often), we were all taken to experience some down-to-earth Finnish culture. The highlight of the evening was a communal sauna (separate for men and women). At the men’s sauna, we hung around trying to match the Finns tolerance for high temperatures. But even as some of us started to wimp out in the 160degree heat, Jeff held his ground and actually seemed to be enjoying himself sweating up a storm! But this was not the end. The Finns then told us that according to their custom, we would now have to walk to the adjacent pitch-black lake (it was past midnight and there were chunks of ice floating on the lake) and dip in it to complete the sauna experience. Of course, I laughed at them thinking it was all a big joke. But when the slightly inebriated group of revelers began heading in their glorious nudity to the lake, I followed to see what would happen. And sure enough, one-by-one, with steam rising off their heated bodies, each person jumped into the water. I figured that sanity would prevail and Jeff would remain on shore with me but that was not to be. First Jeff walked neck-deep and then under the icy depths leaving me no choice but to follow suit. Today, I look back on that experience as a major highlight of my life – who would have thunk it?? And I have to thank my intrepid friends Jeff for inspiring me to take a chance and see what happens. And now I reflect back to that cold November day whenever I find myself hesitating to do something difficult and, more often than not, Jeff’s can-do spirit inspires me to say, “what the hell!” and go for it :)

Am guessing you wouldn't want to see pic of 12 naked guys from 12 countries so here is one of Jeff and Prakash in Alaska hiking on a glacier.