VMDO Architects’ forest inspired educational facility helps to integrate innovative teaching styles
The 12,235 sq m school houses up to 945 3rd, 4th and 5th grade students. Instructional spaces are tailored for programs in academics, fitness, and visual & musical arts. This project unites the existing lower school and historic Camp Carondelet via two new buildings that weave together existing resources. The Pre-K spaces are sized for 4 & 5 year olds, including a 4 foot high 'entrance door' and window reading nooks oriented to the adjacent Camp. The Camp is fully woven into the Upper School's architectural layout, maximising the educational and recreational opportunities.
Innovative teaching techniques combine with a sustainable building to provide opportunities not found in traditional school construction. Spaces are tailored to accommodate the innovative 'parallel block' academic system. Instead of separating the 3rd, 4th & 5th graders into the three 'houses' of the building, each student is assigned to a house for the full three years. This allows a smaller number of teachers to build a multi-year relationship with a smaller number of students. Teaching extends outdoors with two courtyards. Ramp access allows the top of the cistern to double as an outdoor classroom.
Richard Louv, in his book Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder, argues that a regular and direct connection to nature is essential to the physical and emotional health of our children. The book served, in part, as inspiration for the school's integration with the forest ecosystem. Once a forest concept was identified, the team collaborated with the Virginia Department of Forestry, creating an inventory of all flora and fauna in the 8-acre forest.