NAC Architecture reinterprets the idea of 'rural' for a contemporary school
Machias is a replacement elementary school. Located in a river valley with ranches, barns and farmhouses, the physical and cultural context has a distinct rural quality. The site is a plateau slightly above the valley floor with a forested hill as a natural boundary to the east. The client had a strong goal for the new building 'to be rural'. It became apparent that they did not have a clear notion of what rural meant to them but they liked 'the idea of rural'. So with that the task was set.
The architects had to find the right interpretation of that desire for the site. They asked themselves; 'how can a contemporary public school create an authentic sense of place that connects people to the rural cultural and physical context?' Connection to the land and engagement of the vast open space of the valley became guiding design strategies. The design response focused on expanding traditional rural notions of sustainability and translating them into a contemporary school imbued with principles of self-sufficiency, material reuse and respect for the land.
This was accomplished through locating the building in such a way that the building gently mitigates between the large open space of the valley and the hill behind it – reinforcing rural development patterns and creating a strong connection to the land. The design connects people to their site while preserving the previous memory of the place through innovative material reuse.
Curved roof beams salvaged from the original building become the skeleton of the new undulating wall. Their presence in the communal spaces of the school constantly connects occupants with the site specific history. Self-sufficiency is highlighted in the building through a highly efficient envelope and HVAC design, a 100 kW photovoltaic array, and through efforts to engage occupants in reducing energy use.