Gray Middle School

Architype Dialogue presents

Anne Schopf, Architect

What was the single hardest issue to predict about working within this building type and/or the most unexpected challenge that influenced new thought in the building?

The narrow, north-south oriented site presented an immediate challenge. In order to align classrooms for optimum daylighting, we developed compact learning clusters that extend east from a grand hall that follows the site’s length. This central organizing element brings the entire school community together within a single space, and allowed us to enhance connectivity between learning communities. Careful integration of shared areas, transparency between spaces, and shifted stacking of the gallery further support the sense of a school community.
Did this project or building type require an expansion and evolution of your role as an architect in any way? In general, do you feel that the role of the architect is having to expand, change, or evolve on projects?

We place significant focus on design team integration. We believe that it yields a better product, but also recognize that it requires the architect to become an expert on all technical aspects of the building. This project included mechanical systems with heat recovery and displacement ventilation; salvaging, abating, and refinishing glu-lam beams for reuse; and low-impact site strategies. Working as members of an integrated design team to successfully incorporate, coordinate and integrate new technology requires that we continue to learn and grow as a practice.
How is this particular building possible today in a way that it may not have been before and how have trends in technology and society inspired new solutions?

There is greater awareness of and demand for buildings to be environmentally responsible today. Looking back a decade, we were just learning how to develop environmentally sensitive site responses, specify non-toxic materials and achieve balanced daylighting. There were fewer resources and data available to support project efforts. Today, we draw from a rich foundation of information and tools, and work more collaboratively with an expanded community of design consultants. The creative process can be more chaotic but, in the end, yields more appropriate and elegant solutions.
In the context of this project, how is your office and design process being influenced by current trends in academic curricula and incoming young architects? In turn, how are current projects and processes guiding the ongoing reformulation and development of academic curricula?

We have been working with the Integrated Design Lab (IDL) at the University of Washington for some time to study the effects of daylighting and low-energy strategies in education and healthcare facilities. Through the IDL, graduate students support the ongoing design development of our work and conduct post-occupancy evaluations of our buildings. Their research directly informs the spatial decisions we make on projects, which, in turn, generate new data for the program. Our designs could not be as successful without the support of the lab and its representatives. I am optimistic that their close collaboration with our practice also enriches their research and supports their work within the broader industry.

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