CASE STUDY: Benjamin Franklin Elementary School, Kirkland, Washington

Owner: Lake Washington School District
Architect: Mahlum Architects—Gerald Reifert, AIA, principal-in-charge; Anne Schopf, AIA, design principal; Mitchell Kent, AIA, project manager; David Mount, AIA, project architect
Consultants: Coughlin Porter Lundeen (civil/structural); Stantec (mechanical); Coffman Engineers (electrical); The Greenbusch Group (acoustical); Integrated Design Lab (lighting); Cascade Design Collaborative (landscape); SpeeWest Construction (general contractor)

Storefront & Curtainwall: Kawneer
Acoustical ceilings: Armstrong
Resilient flooring: Johnsonite
Carpet tile: Interface
Lighting controls: Leviton
Water-free urinals: Falcon
Classroom furniture: Virco
Millwork: Westmark Products

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Building Great K-12 Schools in Economically Challenging Times
In these tough times making good school design decisions has never been more difficult or more important. To find out how some of the nation’s top architects and administrators are coping with these challenges attend Architectural Record’s Schools of the 21st Century Symposium. It will be held Friday, April 9th, at the Hyatt McCormick Place in Chicago, the day before the NSBA Conference. The event is free of charge and is being presented with the support of McGraw-Hill Education and the American Architectural Foundation.

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Field of Vision
Sustainability, pedagogy, and a stand of Douglas firs combine in an elementary school tied to nature
By David Sokol

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Benjamin Franklin Elementary School was located in an almost idyllic setting. The 38-year-old building occupied a 10-acre site in a low-density neighborhood of Kirkland, Washington, that featured riding trails, horse paddocks, and abundant greenery. So when it came time to construct a replacement facility on top of the older school’s playing fields, Mahlum Architects sought to capitalize on the surroundings and create a building that would support the district’s updated teaching philosophy: Lake Washington School District’s “teachers are more like facilitators in the learning process,” explains Forrest Miller, support services director. “We believe that both teachers as well as students do better in a collaborative setting.”

The architect limited glazing on the east and west facades where direct sunlight is difficult to control. Photo © Benjamin Benschneider.

Mahlum was handed the district’s standard program mandating that the two-story, 450-student school be arranged in series of four, two-story classrooms clustering around shared learning areas—a direct manifestation of Lake Washington’s pedagogical approach. In addition to satisfying these programmatic requirements, the architect also wanted the $10 million facility to provide stakeholders with something they may not have known they wanted—a forward-thinking, green building with abundant daylight and no mechanical ventilation. Marrying the program with the architect’s daylighting aspirations helped the form come into focus.

The configuration creates outdoor classrooms (above) and allows daylighting for instructional and common spaces, such as the gymnasium (below). Photo © Benjamin Benschneider.

“Generally, educational buildings should face north and south to control sunlight,” explains Mahlum principal Anne Schopf. To avoid direct east-west sunlight, the architect devised a 57,000-square-foot building that resembles an inverted “E” in plan. Three flanges run east and west, permitting glazed facades with optimum north-south exposures in the classroom clusters, shared learning areas, the school commons, and gymnasium. Roof overhangs and sunshades minimize solar heat gain and glare.

The orientation focuses the shared learning areas northward toward a stand of Douglas fir trees “so that it becomes the spiritual center for the building and a reinforcement of the importance of nature,” Schopf says. The flanges also create two courtyard areas, both of which are conceived as outdoor classrooms. The courtyards are planted with drought-tolerant native species. One of these spaces includes a basalt water sculpture and an intermittent stream supplied by rainwater collected from the school’s butterfly roofs.

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