Elevating and Inspiring
Four Grand Prize-winning projects inspire learning through innovative design
By Todd Hutlock
The last few years have seen design standards that were once considered innovations—such as the use of natural light, sustain- able techniques, enhanced security, and bright colors, to name just a few—become expected parts of any new project. Given that yesterday’s pioneering trends are rapidly becoming today’s norms, projects are logically held to a higher standard, as the bar is subtly being raised from year to year.
The four projects that earned a Grand Prize from this year’s jury have managed to integrate design standards and educa- tional needs and goals at an extremely high level, housing them in buildings that are beautiful as well as engaging and at times, thought-provoking in the truest sense of the phrase. Tying design to learning—and vice-versa—in new, innovative, and effective ways, these projects stand as stellar examples of form following function, doing so with the new keys to making a learning envi- ronment successful: transparency, flexibility, connectivity, safety, and sustainability.
With a design inspired by its namesake’s voracity for learning and curiosity about the world around her,Helen Keller Elementary in Kirkland, Washington, embodies the school’s cultural heart and mission state- ment—Growth, Respect, Integrity, and Perseverance through its physical environment. Tactile artwork, sign language instruc- tions, oversize Braille dots, and inspirational quotes from Keller in common areas and on exterior features further reinforce the connection, as well as encouraging students to read, touch, and interact with their sur- roundings. The jury also praised the “thoughtful use of primary colors as a direction-finding tool” throughout the space—bright and colorful without being overly childish or busy.
A large canopy at the main entrance leads to a vibrant, light- filled community “living room” that serves as a meeting place for parents and school bus entries. The library was placed on the second floor above the space, providing views to a nearby park, as well as the space below. The jury noted that this placement also created a nice sense of scale to the 57,000-square-foot building. The jury also praised the interior connections between spaces, highlighted by transparency between classrooms and common areas. The building is organized by grade level, with four “learn- ing settings” composed of classrooms clustered around shared instructional areas. Wireless technology, modular furniture, tack- able surfaces, and flexible partitions allow flexibility to accommo- date multiple programs and group sizes.