Betty Fairfax High School / DLR Group

© Mark Boisclair

Architect: DLR Group
Location: Phoenix, AZ,
Owner: Phoenix Union High School District #210
Contractor: Adolfson & Peterson Construction
Project Year: 2007
Area: 345,000 SF; 51 Acres
Photographs: Mark Boisclair

first floor plan


Adapt a school district’s commitment to the Small Schools Movement within a new 2,400 student urban high school.

Beginning in 2000, the Phoenix Union High School District (PUHSD) began to embrace the Small School Movement and subsequently opened several small 400-500 student specialty schools. However, due to a population explosion in the southern portion of PUHSD, it was determined that a “New Comprehensive High School” was needed to accommodate new student demand. While this new school would accommodate 2,400 students, the desire to integrate the Small School Movement was of prime importance.

© Mark Boisclair


The final solution designed 345,000 SF into a Small Learning Community (SLC) concept, delivering the promise of a small-school environment on a large-school campus. The SLC design solution clusters classrooms into unique, separate schools while providing collaborative space for students and staff. Each SLC includes administration, counseling, and computer/media services as well as large gathering areas to accommodate the entire student population of that individual school, allowing true community to develop.

Prior to beginning the design process, the team spent many hours listening to district leaders, faculty and students to capture the vision for what would become Betty H. Fairfax High School. Armed with these goals, the design team was charged with the mission of creating a school that would express more than mere classrooms and gathering spaces. The team turned the vision into a brainstorm of ideas—an ideation of words that would more clearly communicate the vision.


The Ideation equipped the design team to create a high school that embraced the following ideals to impact students through: Focus. Personalization. Transparency. Empowerment. Socialization. Community. Motivation. Dispersion. Ownership. Adaptability. Innovation. Compactness. Nurturing. Inspiration. Identity. Security. Intuition. Diversity. Rigor. Reflection. Relevance. Respect.

While these concepts raised the banner for creative design, the team never lost sight of the real-world challenges and problems facing students, staff, and faculty today—issues of security and safety, identity and pride, efficiency and accountability.

© Mark Boisclair

Design Goals

The planning ultimately established six memorable goals which guided the design process and formed the basis for judging the success of the project:

  • Small Learning Communities: The SLC is an intuitive design that reflects how people are wired to connect with each other. It syncs with human nature because it is relational. A pure SLC campus promotes a genuine sense of belonging. It forms a rich learning environment by providing inspirational spaces and sociable places where students are encouraged and empowered to succeed. Each individual school is self-contained, housing large gathering spaces, media resources, administration, counseling and food service specifically geared to the needs of that SLC.
  • Student-Focused Campus: The goal was to organize the large 2,400 student population into smaller cohorts, each with their own distinct identity and a degree of autonomy. Each SLC has the same number of core curriculum classrooms, and science labs. This allows students to focus the majority of their academic time with a smaller group of peers, resulting in familiarity between students and staff, ownership in their education and surroundings, and pride and inclusiveness within their SLC.
  • Adaptability over Time: The facility supports the in-place instructional process and adapts easily to changing curricular delivery models. In addition to establishing SLCs based on grade levels, each school can be themed to a plug-in curriculum, lending a unique sense of style and identity to their school. This further encourages targeted involvement of students from other areas of campus. Plug-in curriculum pieces include Dance, Studio Arts, Aerobics/Weights, and Computer Technology.
  • Intuitive Design: Administration, counseling, and resource and computer labs occur at each SLC and are planned around a large central, multi-use gathering area to accommodate a variety of activities. PE/Athletics and Performing Arts act as bookends for the campus and are intergrated into the academic fabric of the campus by virtue of their association to the aforementioned ‘plug-in’ curriculum pieces. Both major components have a strong association with the core curriculum, metaphorically and figuratively.
  • Interactivity and Personalization: The campus is connected by a meandering path for primary circulation. Student Services is located at the center of the campus, adjacent to the food service kitchen. Student Services is the central icon for the campus, where visitors enter and students gather to use the central Library and Café. These three traditionally separate functions combine in one unique collaborative and vibrant space, creating both interior and exterior spaces for students to study, gather, and relax. Other informal gathering and social spaces intersect the pathway including a small outdoor performance/teaching arena.
  • Environmental Responsibility: Fresh air, daylight and expansive views are highlights of this project. Daylight in all core classrooms is enhanced through the building’s orientation, while minimizing thermal heat gain. Other energy-efficient features include a high performance building envelope, efficient central chiller system, and native landscaping. Indoor air quality is enhanced by careful selection and use of local/regional materials that are low maintenance. The Small Learning Communities are built in two-story configurations to reduce the building footprint, while also creating shaded walkways to enhance the learning environment in this Sonoran desert climate.
© Mark Boisclair


The end result of planning and design is a rich sense of small community for students within the larger education community, delivering a positive impact on the student’s learning experience.

Products in this project

Bathroom Equipment: American Specialties Inc., Excel Dryer Corporation

  • Washroom Fixtures by American Specialties Inc.
  • Hand-Drying Equipment by Excel Dryer Corporation
  • Washroom/Shower Partitions by American Specialties Inc.
  • Washroom Accessories by American Specialties Inc.

Construction materials, Semi-finished materials: Nordic Builders, ASTM, Chevron Phillips Chemical Home

  • Insulation by Nordic Builders
  • Brick/Masonry: Concrete Masonry Units: ASTM C 90 by ASTM
  • Insulation by Chevron Phillips Chemical Home

Floor: Armstrong, Hillyard, Inc., Shaw Floors, Dal Tile

  • Flooring by Armstrong
  • Physical-Education Flooring: 350 Gym Finish by Hillyard, Inc.
  • Carpet by Shaw Floors
  • Ceramic Tile by Dal Tile

Furniture: Hussey Seating Company , TMI Design Systems, Midwest Folding Products, Wilsonart

  • Furniture: Auditorium/Assembly by Hussey Seating Company
  • Furniture: Science by TMI Design Systems
  • Furniture: Multipurpose Areas by TMI Design Systems
  • Furniture: Library/Media Center by TMI Design Systems
  • Furniture: Cafeteria by Midwest Folding Products
  • Furniture: Childcare by TMI Design Systems
  • Cabinets by Wilsonart
  • Furniture: Office by TMI Design Systems
  • Furniture: Lounge by TMI Design Systems
  • Furniture: Classroom by TMI Design Systems

Joinery: McKINNEY Hinge, SARGENT Manufacturing, PPG

  • Door Hardware by McKINNEY Hinge
  • Door Hardware by SARGENT Manufacturing
  • Windows by PPG

Kitchen Equipment: Elkay

  • Drinking Fountains by Elkay

Lighting, Heating, Home/building automation: OSRAM SYLVANIA, Valmont lightning, Lithonia Lighting, Philips

  • Indoor Lighting by OSRAM SYLVANIA
  • Indoor Lighting by Valmont lightning
  • Emergency Lighting: Power Sentry by Lithonia Lighting
  • Lightning: Bodine by Philips

Mobile Partitions/Suspended Ceilings/Raised Floors: Armstrong, USG, Modernfold, Inc.

  • Ceilings by Armstrong
  • Ceilings by USG
  • Movable Partitions/Walls by Modernfold, Inc.

Roof: Johns Manville Inc.

  • Roofing by Johns Manville Inc.

Staircases, Elevators, Moving walks: Otis

  • Elevators by Otis

Walls: Dunn Edwards

  • Paint by Dunn Edwards

View this project in Google Maps

* Location to be used only as a reference. It could indicate city/country but not exact address.
Cite: "Betty Fairfax High School / DLR Group" 08 Jun 2010. ArchDaily. Accessed 01 Apr 2015. <>
  • squidly

    i think American high school students need more, not less, structure in their lives.

  • Momic Philipp

    Hi, I’m Phillip and I’m from Macedonia, I’m student on the architectural university in Skopje. We have a subject called ”designing primary and high schools” so we should make an elaboration of one school. I picked this scool, i like it because of his exploded stucture. So I was wondering if you could give me some direction where i can find some diagrams, study case or something. Thanks a lot, and go on with great work