Text description provided by the architects. Located amidst the Ozark Mountains in the small agricultural community of Green Forest, Arkansas this two-story middle school roots itself in the heart of the existing public school campus. We recognized the importance of the existing central greenspace as a common area, used throughout the day as a gathering place for middle school and high school students during lunch and before and after school. Furthermore, it is a transitional space consistently traversed by all students and members of the community to access the community stadium. The space acts as a plaza between the old CWA gymnasium, art + music, cafeteria, and agricultural buildings on the campus.
In the early master planning stages, the school's desire to fill in the entire green space with a one-story classroom building—which would have eliminated the central outdoor space of the campus—was overcome by proposing a modern 2-story building capable of preserving 2/3 of the available exterior space as a student commons and community plaza. The sustainable design is resolved through the use of economical and intelligent materials combined to enrich the existing campus through the interaction of people, space, form, and color—both internally and externally.
The structure has a poignant presence in the newly defined plaza space, ready to receive students and visitors under a 16' cantilever of white standing seam roof. This covered zone, combined with the figure-ground of the concrete block and corrugated metal panel of the western wall is an event space that serves the school and the greater community. The landscaped plaza uses native plantings to define a functioning rain garden and an alumni garden that contains the relics of carved concrete pavers with signatures from the early graduates of the public school system. A large processional sidewalk leads to the building entry and is marked by the cantilevered library box, clad in red metal panel; a bow to the school’s signature color.
A spacious atrium on the interior hosts a floating stair with a large skylight above that creates a pivotal intersection of light and movement at the primary hub of circulation. The vertical red wall of the elevator is a beacon, again emphasizing the school’s signature color as the catalyst for activity. The exposed structure reveals the bones as an innate educational experience and provides a relief of volume in the entry, reception areas, and the corridors connecting the individual classrooms.
Upstairs, the library and circulation spaces open to the entry below. Conceived as a transparent platform, the library floats above the entry with the projection of the window box framing a view to the west overlooking the plaza and high school beyond. The projected box becomes a deep window seat suitable for students to be immersed in the books around them. Economically sized classrooms with custom millwork and large windows, for daylight and fresh air, flank the wide corridors of the first and second floors, and custom steel lintels mark the threshold of each learning space with a room number. The north end of the second floor corridor resolves into another projected window seat box to provide a respite from the busy hallway and secondary stair.
The Special Education Learning component is located on the northeast corner and contains its own garden, covered porch entry, and services providing a private, safe, and comfortable atmosphere for the practical applications of teaching daily resource classes. This element is also conceived as a projected box, providing spatial relief to the eastern façade—which is adjacent to the football field—and acts as a compositionally balances the structure.
As a building located in the geographic center of the campus, all elevations are carefully composed with the play of concrete block and metal panel to dynamically address each approach. These durable, low-maintenance materials are common to economical school construction, but are creatively used to provide a unique design aesthetic. As a base material, the standard-sized, sand-blasted, stack-bond concrete block is used instead of split-face block, which is the most typical material for school construction. This smooth block keeps the building friendly to students and other users occupying the landscaped gathering spaces around the building. The standing seam shed roof of the building channels all water to the east side in continuation with the natural hydrology of the site while also providing a compositional shell embracing the main volume of the new structure.
The context of the greater campus was also addressed through the development of a new pedestrian plaza which connects the middle school and high school across the primary street of Philips Avenue; the existing street was shut down from all vehicular access during school hours. A new street design carefully controls vehicular movement speed, maximizes circulation for parking and bus (un)loading and creates a tree-lined boulevard to beautify the primary school zone.