Nature as a Path to Learning and Place – The Blakely Elementary School

AIA Continuing Education Provider

1 LU / HSW

Blakely Elementary School, the 2021 A4LE MacConnell award winner, is a 400 student K-4 replacement school for the Bainbridge Island School district that grew out of a community vision for a school unique to their site and community. A vision evolved of a seamlessly integrated landscape of shared collaborative learning experiences that amplify strong student achievement and empower their ever -innovating teaching culture through the transformation of the school’s relationship with the surrounding mixed coniferous forest. The educational benefits of daylight and improved educational environments has been well documented. But as we raise the bar, what are the next levels of higher performing schools where children can connect to nature and bring biophilic geometries and indoor – outdoor design elements into learning environments? An engaged co-creating process with teachers was essential for the design process of the circulation framework and the relationship of classrooms to shared learning. Through workshops with teachers and staff, a design parti emerged that celebrated the rising topography of the site, centered learning communities within a framework for collaboration, created a quilt of indoor and outdoor experiences and connected sustainable performance with environmental education curriculum. Multiple sustainability strategies include all electric systems, geothermal wells, over 20,000 plants and extensive stormwater infrastructure for filtration and retention. Biophilic design strategies from natural design geometries, structural ‘whole trees’ and connections to exterior landscapes are core to the project design. In addition to the MacConnell the project has received honors including the A4LE LE Solutions, New Learning Environment Award, and was the winner of the A4LE 2021 Polished Apple Award. It has been published in Architectural Record and has received 2 AIA design awards.

Learning Objectives:

  1. Presentation will present detailed strategies for optimizing educational spaces for learning and community inclusion.
  2. Sustainability strategies for energy, natural ventilation, ground source geothermal and reduced embodied carbon will be reviewed.
  3. Landscape integration for biodiversity, stormwater treatment and retention will be presented.
  4. Detailed technical integration of Structural ‘Whole Tree’ columns and parametrically designed lasers cut guardrails.
Richard Franko
Richard Franko, FAIA
Partner, Mithun,

Rich brings experience in the design leadership of schools, children’s museums and environmental education centers to the core issues of creating learning environments. He has lectured internationally on integrated design strategies, for optimizing sustainable performance, learning potential and place based design . He leads the sustainability integration team at Mithun, and was the Design Partner leading the design of the Blakely Elementary School and the Louisiana Children’s Museum.

Seamus Kelly
Séamus Kelly, AIA
Associate Principal, Mithun,

Séamus is an architect and project manager with a passion for designing educational environments that support 21st century learning, occupant well-being and sustainable performance over decades of use. Notable projects include Blakely Elementary School, Seattle University’s Sinegal Center for Science and Innovation, and UW Bothell | Cascadia College STEM 4.

Eli Jaeger
Eli Jaeger
Senior Associate, Marketing Manager, Mithun,

Track: The Experience of Place

The built and natural environments have profound impacts on our behaviors both for better and worse. How do we cultivate a sense of place for better? How might the built and natural environments be made to enhance teaching and learning? How might school buildings and grounds foster a sense of community by reflecting those they serve?

Primary Core Competency
Design of Educational Facilities: Acts as a resource to the design team in providing ongoing guidance and support to ensure that the emerging and ultimate design aligns with the established community vision, education goals, future programming, written design standards, best/next practices and education policy.

Learning Units/Health, Safety, Welfare (LU/HSW)
The presentation will highlight strategies for architectural planning, educational programming, site design and high performing energy systems of a K-4 Elementary School. Programming and outreach, detailed site analysis and stormwater concepts, with circulation and connecting frameworks will be included. Parametric design of laser cut guardrails, integrating 'Whole Trees' into structural systems and geothermal heat wells will be a part of the technical section of the session.  

learningSCAPES 2022

October 5-9
Marriott Rivercenter | San Antonio, TX

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