Lynnwood High School
Photo © Michael Cole

CASE STUDY: Lynnwood High School, Bothell, Washington, Bassetti Architects

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By Katharine Logan

Architect: Bassetti Architects
CLIENT: Edmonds School District No. 15
Size: 219,768 square feet (gross)

structural system: Allied Steel (framing); Epic Metals (long span decking)
cladding: Mutual Materials (concrete masonry units); AEP Span (metal panels); Keith Panel System (aluminum composite panels) roofing: Malarkey Roofing Products (built-up); AEP Span (metal)

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Those among us bewildered by the lack of character that afflicts great swathes of the developed landscape - vast parking lots, relentless strip malls, mindless billboards, awkward housing, and multilane roads - may be surprised to discover the distinctive profile of Lynnwood High School, 20 miles north of Seattle in the middle of nowhere.

Located in Bothell, this new public school (part of Edmonds School District No. 15) replaces a fragmented 1969 campus a mile away, notable for poor exterior circulation between shoddy blocks of classrooms. In 2004, the Edmonds Project Advisory & Review Committee initiated a research-based planning process to redefine the program and aspirations of the ailing school, and to guide an effective design. Subsequently, they tapped Seattle-based Bassetti Architects to structure the school into a humane and experientially rich piece of architecture.

Approaching the brief in a holistic way, the firm developed a scheme by treating the relationships among the project's many parts as an urban design. "Once we settled on the concept of a whole school space, understanding the urban patterns was key to an effective solution," says Bassetti design principal Rick Huxley.

The near 220,000-square-foot, $73 million structure serves a diverse student body of 1,600 (who speak 28 languages among them). In deliberate contrast to the scattered old school and incoherent landscape, the criteria informing the new building define a series of linked centers at a variety of scales. The Agora is literally and figuratively the heart of the school. Filled with daylight from clerestory windows, this unifying double-height volume serves as lobby, cafeteria, event space, performance venue, study hall, and "village square." Its fully glazed end walls provide views out to the playing fields, wetlands, and trees beyond, connecting the Agora to the larger world.

The building is organized into four two-story clusters that front onto the Agora: an athletic and library cluster, an arts cluster that includes a theater, and two classroom clusters. Each articulates the edges of the Agora with enclaves and display areas that invite interactions on a more intimate scale. Form, material, and color designate elements with specific functions. Balconies designate cluster entrances, for example, and maple cladding designates administrative areas, which are dispersed for ease of access and passive supervision. "I can honestly say we've had fewer problems and fewer behavior issues because of the Agora," says school principal Dave Golden.

Reiterating the ordering principle of the Agora, each classroom cluster centers on its own smaller gathering space, which links classrooms, break rooms, and administrative offices into a comprehensible part of the larger whole. Remarkably, Bassetti's execution of the spatial concept avoids the inefficiencies of more widely distributed functions. Just as buildings on a main square connect along back streets and alleys in a city, here the science rooms in each cluster back onto a shared resource block, and staff offices link "backstage" to promote informal communication and continuity of the student experience.

The building's outward expression comprises shading devices, lightshelves, passive-ventilation louvers, and fenestration, bringing rhythm, texture, and complexity to a metal-panel and concrete-block envelope. In terms of environmental performance, it exceeds state energy code requirements by 50 percent, with an Energy Star Performance Rating of 91.

The building's genius, however, lies in its play of scale. By approaching the design as an urban exercise, the architects generated a connective community for young citizens to inhabit. Open since September 2009, the new school engages students and offers them a meaningful place in the world. "The building has completely changed the image of Lynnwood," says Golden. "People used to go elsewhere. Now we can't keep them away."

Katharine Logan is a British Columbia–based writer for RECORD.


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