In 2016, Washington D.C. set out to modernize 100 of its 113 schools by 2022, expanding the District’s focus of preservation, place-making, and community investment. Twenty-five of these schools have had no building improvements since they were opened, and many were built during the first half of the 20th century1;2.
Living in DC, and working with Perkins Eastman’s K12 studio over the past 3 years, I have experienced many of these schools first hand as a designer, a volunteer, and a member of the community. Along the way, I have learned that modernizing a historic school is a very personal experience. From the time we begin to engage the stakeholders and community on the design, to the time the students and faculty return to the space, there is something very special about the opportunity we as Architects are given to impact the experience of everyone in our city.
While DC has been fortunate over the past several years to have the financial capital to invest in its school infrastructure, many communities across the country still do not have this same opportunity. Years of neglect, crime, and poor urban development and building practices have left many schools run down; often to a point where the health and identity of the community is compromised. It is with this knowledge that I am driven to do the work that I do; recognizing that while good school design needs to provide a secure haven from often broken and at times dangerous surroundings, each school should also offer a unique sense of connection to its environment and neighbors.
Each project at Perkins Eastman begins with studying the public/private thresholds that exist between the school and community, and working with the school’s stakeholders to identify solutions that can improve and bolster these connections. In today’s academic environment, where the pedagogy has evolved to address the latest technologies of the 21st century, we find that while we must be diligent in providing classroom learning space that fully embraces the digital landscape, we must also not lose touch of foundational principles of place that makes the urban landscape so special.
For one of Perkins Eastman DC’s recent projects at Roosevelt High School in DC’s Petworth Neighborhood, the following goals were established early in the design process to take what was an aging facility that had been effectively walled-off from its surroundings, and give it new life, embracing the surrounding community that is experiencing much growth and renewal:
- Provide technology-enhanced classrooms and laboratories that stimulate disciplinary exploration.
- Foster the intellectual, social and emotional development critical to Roosevelt education by providing not only the best individual instructional spaces but also complementary places for positive school community interaction outside of class.
- Nurture a sense of civic pride in the students by renovating and re-opening the historic, prominent 13th Street main entrance.
- Promote proactive and subtle security by providing dedicated zones for the school and the public, and by distributing spaces for faculty and staff throughout the campus.
- Reduce the perceived scale of the school for the users by streamlining the circulation through the building, and by creating identifiable “neighborhoods” of classrooms and support spaces based around the school’s academy structure.
- Enable active community use of the gym, pool natatorium, and health clinic, without disruption of the academic program by zoning the facility for after school use.
- Promote safe and accessible pedestrian patterns around the site.
- Create a “high performance” school that both conserves resources and creates an environment conducive to learning. 3
As the goals outline above, the design approach focused both on improvements to direct learning spaces for the students and faculty within the schools walls, and on how the school engages the neighborhood and welcomes the community. Roosevelt High School opened in Fall 2016 and has been recognized by the design community and by the city as a model for school modernizations of the 21st century.
During the upcoming AIA CAE Spring Conference in Portland this next month, I look forward to engaging the broader architectural community from across the country and around the world - as well as the students, staff and Architects of the schools we tour - enhancing my own understanding of how the work we do as K12 Architects can improve the communities, neighborhoods, and lives of people across the globe.