LEO A DALY and BIG team to design the most inventive public school in the country
January 20, 2016
The new Wilson School in Arlington, VA, has been called the most inventive public school design in the country. CityLab previewed the project, which is a collaboration between LEO A DALY and Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG).
Excerpted from the article:
D.C. Could Get This Wild, Twisty, Innovative School
By Kriston Capps
Two notable architecture firms are coming together to create a new school in Rosslyn, Virginia, just outside the District of Columbia. Leo A Daly and Bjarke Ingels Group are designing a new Wilson School building—one that could be an architecturally significant project for the region.
If the new Wilson School building is completed as planned, Rosslyn will be getting an architectural gem worthy of what came before it. Planning documents from Arlington Public Schools reveal a distinctive torquing design. The building appears to spread out from a central pivot, like a hand fan. If the building is completed to spec, the Wilson School may be the most architecturally distinct public school in the country.
Like any good Bjarke Ingels Group design, the plan for the Wilson School starts with a geometric conceit: Stack a series of program spaces, one on top of the other, like bricks. Then twist them so they range out like a fan. Shifting the stack preserves the whole volume but generates new pavilions. The torqued building is a school building—and it’s also a textured, terraced series of urban pavilions.
For Leo A Daly, the Wilson School will be a major D.C. followup to La Casa, an award-winning supportive-housing project in the District. As Amanda Kolson Hurley explained in the Washington City Paper, Leo A Daly is a global firm known for delivering complex projects on time and under budget, an important quality for a Housing First project such as La Casa.
The Wilson School will mash several school programs into one. The H-B Woodlawn Program, a unique and self-tailored school for students grades 6–12, will move into the new building. So will the High Intensity Language Training program, which teaches English and secondary education to immigrants, as well as the Stratford Program, a secondary school for students with special needs. In addition, H-B is one of the Arlington schools that houses the Secondary Program for Students with High-Functioning Autism.
With its diverse programming needs, the Wilson School will be both very popular and very necessary. Those needs are reflected in the design, which divides one building into several joined spaces, with rooftop pavilions that will serve different purposes. The necessity can be measured by volume: The new Wilson School will be eight times as large as the old one. (It’s scheduled to be built in 2019.)
It’s important beyond well-to-do Arlington, too. While high design and higher education are longtime partners, high design rarely makes it into high schools. If it works, the Wilson School could serve as a model, or maybe a signal: Public schools with the means should take design seriously.