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Wilkes Elementary School / Mahlum

Wilkes Elementary School / Mahlum

© Jeremy Bittermann ©  Benjamin Benschneider ©  Benjamin Benschneider ©  Benjamin Benschneider + 12

Bainbridge Island, United States
  • Civil Engineering: 2020 Engineering
  • Structural: PCS Structural Solutions
  • Mechanical, Electrical & Plumbing: ARUP
  • Landscape: Cascade Design Collaborative
  • Acoustical And Av: SSA Acoustics
  • Food Service: Bundy & Associates
  • Cost Estimator: Rider Levett Bucknell
  • Geotechnical: Associated Earth Sciences
  • General Contractor: Spee West Construction
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© Jeremy Bittermann
© Jeremy Bittermann

Text description provided by the architects. Brain research shows that play and learning are inextricably intertwined; that play is a central ingredient in the development of academic skills, school readiness, and school performance. Typical schools isolate one from the other, clearly defining times and places that each should occur independently. This physical and temporal separation has devalued play in America: more than 30,000 schools have dropped recess; between 1997 and 2003, outdoor play fell 50%; in the last 20 years, children have lost over 8 hours of discretionary playtime per week.

Floor Plan
Floor Plan

By interweaving social and educational spaces, the new Wilkes Elementary School challenges this deplorable practice. The design for Wilkes embraces visual and physical connectivity so that learning can happen everywhere. Through transparency, the needs of the whole child are addressed: physical limitations to educational opportunities are removed, a range of learning styles are supported, and lines between where learning or play can occur are blurred. The functional arrangement fosters collaboration and creates opportunities for variation in scales of learning – from multi-classroom gatherings to intimate individual experiences.

©  Benjamin Benschneider
©  Benjamin Benschneider

Emerging from the hillside, the structure of Wilkes is knitted with the natural environment and its functions with pedagogy. This organization helps heal a steeply divided site and provides the missing connection between education and facilities. The building extends into the site, alternating structure and courtyard to optimize natural daylight and erase physical separation. Courtyards slope at the east end to merge with the playground, gardens, and athletic fields that link the school to the community, while the fingers of the building reach out above, sheltering play spaces below. Circulation paths run alongside and at the end of each finger, inviting engagement and collaboration across grade levels.

©  Benjamin Benschneider
©  Benjamin Benschneider

Within the school, Wilkes’s 450 students experience a seamless transition from classrooms to interior and exterior shared learning spaces. Glazing reinforces connectivity between classrooms and interior shared learning areas, and with the courtyards beyond. The size and composition of each learning space varies in response to the developmental needs of students to complement the school’s personalized and ability-based curriculum. In this way, the school supports dynamic teaching and independent learning that increases student accountability.

© Jeremy Bittermann
© Jeremy Bittermann

A large covered area at the entry encourages community involvement by supporting casual interactions as parents drop off and pick up students. This entry feeds into the main public corridor, which provides convenient access to the library, music room, commons and community gymnasium, making Wilkes the largest public building, and new cultural hub, for the north end of the island. 

©  Benjamin Benschneider
©  Benjamin Benschneider

With a strong community ethos as caretakers of the land, sustainable design elements are integrated throughout the new school to minimize the building’s environmental impact and operating costs, while maximizing the benefit to teaching and learning. Sustainable strategies include 100% on-site stormwater infiltration, an innovative large on-site septic system (L.O.S.S) to treat 100% of waste water on site, 100% porous paving, and heat recovery. A hybrid heating system comprising forty geo-thermal wells and a water-to-water heat pump with electric boiler assist is anticipated to be 40% more efficient than a baseline elementary school system. Student- and community-owned garden beds within the playground support a programmatic partnership between Wilkes and a nearby working farm. Interior spaces benefit from non-toxic finish materials, operable windows, natural cooling, and radiant floors that increase thermal comfort in the zone where students sit and play.

©  Benjamin Benschneider
©  Benjamin Benschneider

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Project location

Address: 12781 Madison Avenue Northeast, Bainbridge Island, WA 98110, USA

Location to be used only as a reference. It could indicate city/country but not exact address.
About this office
Cite: "Wilkes Elementary School / Mahlum" 10 Feb 2015. ArchDaily. Accessed . <https://www.archdaily.com/596974/wilkes-elementary-school-mahlum/> ISSN 0719-8884
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