In the United States, a push for small class sizes and therefore small schools has reoriented educational architecture towards, among other things, campuses rather than megaschools. This approach results in projects—like the Marysville Gretchell High School north of Seattle—with clusters of small buildings, therefore elevating the importance of the outdoor spaces between buildings. DLR Group respects and takes advantage of the Pacific Northwest context with elevated walkways connecting the different schools; further they shape the outdoor spaces that are linked to the interiors through expanses of glass. The architects answered some questions about this recently completed project.
Entry to one Small Learning Community. Each school integrates into the hillside and is connected to the campus with pathways, bridges and learning patios.
Can you describe your design process for the building?
DLR Group engaged two primary groups in the planning and design process: the Core Team, consisting primarily of district leadership, and the Concept Development Team, an expanded group of community members, teachers, staff, counselors, and students.
Planning and conceptual design spanned four months. The process kicked off with a Visioning Workshop for the Core Team to outline the project parameters, scope and schedule.
Other key planning and design events to develop the design concept included:
• a three-day design workshop with the Concept Development Team;
• two community open houses; and
• focus group meetings with students and teachers
Aware that involvement of students was critical, the team engaged students every step of the way. High school interns worked with the architects, and student focus groups helped form each HS’s identity. A wheelchair-bound student conducted an ongoing American with Disabilities Act (ADA) analysis and had an article about the design process published in American School Board Journal.
View of Campus Commons. Integration of nature provides ample opportunity for outdoor learning and connections.
How does the completed building compare to the project as designed? Were there any dramatic changes between the two and/or lessons learned during construction?
The design process was virtually fully realized in the constructed buildings. DLR Group‘s design arranges four, independent high school buildings around a central Campus Commons. These buildings are designed using a “shell and core” concept which locates the seismic and load-bearing steel structure and most plumbing out to the exterior walls, routes electrical and HVAC through floor and ceiling, and allows interior walls to be easily reconfigured over time to adapt to changes in educational program. With the addition of interior windows, movable walls, furniture on wheels, and ubiquitous technology, the design extends to allow for dynamic and integrated learning opportunities.
Rather late in the design process, the team had an opportunity to test the flexible design theory upon learning that one of the interested-based high schools (Global Studies) was unsubscribed and another would need to replace it. No problem! The building was quickly readapted to accommodate the Academy for Construction and Engineering.
Interior view of Learning Commons’ living room. Students congregate in this area for informal gathering and social learning.
How does the building relate to contemporary architectural trends, be it sustainability, technology, etc.?
Preserving wetlands, old growth trees and forest understory was paramount to the siting of the school. The campus is composed of distinct three-story structures to reduce the total building footprint and minimize site impact while maximizing landscape preservation. Connected by boardwalks, the buildings nestle into the trees and sloping topography, while their orientation maximizes daylighting.
An outdoor amphitheater, decks, and viewing platforms provide endless learning opportunities where students, staff, and visitors engage in social, professional, and educational interactions.
This project integrates significant energy reduction and efficiencies systems. Rather than using a mechanical cooling system, a sustainable approach of operable widows and shading by the forest canopy is used to cool buildings. Occupancy sensors and dimmable lights are installed in classrooms and offices. All air handling units are set to economizer cycles and hot water tanks are minimized. A high-efficiency HVAC system was selected to exceed local energy code requirements by more than 20 percent.
Are there any new/upcoming projects in your office that this building’s design and construction has influenced?
The NEW high school: The Marysville Getchell high school campus design creates a 21st Century learning environment through flexibility, student-centered spaces, and sustainability. This concept, along with a small learning community model, has been adopted by several school districts we are currently working with, and will be implemented in future high schools DLR Group designs.
E-Mail Interview conducted by John Hill