This project continues the evolution of this urban school and provides a new middle school program configured vertically to leverage the limited site, enhance pedagogical principles, and connect with adjacent school buildings and the neighborhood.
Positioned at the intersection of Union Street and 13th Avenue in Capitol Hill, a densely populated urban neighborhood in Seattle, the new Middle School synthesizes its urban condition and program into a six-story academic volume relating in scale to the mixed-use commercial core along the arterial street, and a lower volume dedicated to athletics that mirrors the residential neighborhood context found along 13th Avenue.
Middle School academic spaces occupy the upper floors in the new 51,372 SF building, while the lower floors provide for entry, administration, general gathering, maker space and music instruction. A gymnasium and outdoor rooftop playfield provide much needed physical activity space. Lower floors also incorporate direct connectivity to adjacent Seattle Academy buildings, further underscoring the project’s important function as a campus connector.
Wendy Pautz, Design Partner, comments: “Beyond the programmatic and site complexities, this project reaffirms the important role of schools in the urban context. An innovative approach to stacked program and connectivity between students, classes, grades, the broader school and the community provides an educational experience centered on team-oriented projects and problem-based learning, grounded in the larger context of its neighborhood. We hope this new project contributes to the well-being of the community, the education of its children and the social activity along the Union Street corridor.”
Each Middle School grade occupies a floor within the building, with classrooms organized around a collaborative learning space to accommodate project-based learning and cross-discipline discovery. These collaboration spaces are designed as a series of double-height, stepped interior volumes that cascade between floors, enhancing visual and physical connectivity within the stacked program and creating opportunities for students to observe, cross paths, interact and engage beyond the four walls of the classroom.
Mark Reddington, Partner-in-Charge, comments: “Classrooms have been conceptualized as independent units of learning that connect with each other, collaboration spaces, other grades and the rest of the school, providing a flexible educational experience. Daylight, natural ventilation and operable windows allow for control of each of the spaces and promotes connection to the world outside of the building. The building’s circulation system provides an equitable experience for all students, with coordinated stair and elevator landings to ensure that students moving through the building in groups always converge at the same destination.”
Brick wraps the two building volumes and is punctuated by expanses of transparency, relating to the collaboration spaces, that cascade down the exterior of the building and resolve into a primary gathering space adjacent to the building entry that anchors the urban intersection. An outdoor space at the entry provides a welcoming gathering place for students and an urban amenity for the community. The façade is a mix of grey- and cream-colored bricks that fade vertically from dark to light, telegraphing the programmatic complexity and interior organization of the project. Multi-colored red sunshades provide playful contrast against the brick backdrop and express the school’s identity on the exterior of the building, with bold graphic elements accentuating the name of the school through simple and prominent typography.
Bold graphic elements continue to project the ethos of the school throughout the interior spaces. Each classroom floor features a different accent color, creating a sense of place and identity for each grade as well as a dynamic wayfinding scheme. A ribbon of faceted panels on the feature walls and ceilings of collaboration spaces weaves through the building, connecting these spaces and providing visual continuity both within the building and into the neighborhood.