The Lamplighter School Innovation Lab

Architect: Marlon Blackwell Architects

Owner: The Lamplighter School

Location: Dallas, TX

Category: Design excellence

“This project brings the quest for innovative problem solving to children’s intelligence with an architecture that appeals to the mind, body, and full use of the senses.” - Jury comment

The centerpiece of a master plan initiated by Dallas’ The Lamplighter School in 2014, the Innovation Lab presents a new and distinct identity on the village-like campus. The campus was originally designed in the late 1960s by O’Neil Ford, who worked closely with administrators to support their learning movement with open learning spaces and a deep connection to nature. This new architecture is reflective of the school’s pedagogy and values while complementing additions made by Frank Welch in the 1980s and ’90s.

Since its founding in the mid-1950s, the school has sought to promote a unique learning environment for students in pre-K through fourth grade. Its curriculum focuses on engaging students with their surroundings and encouraging them to explore and discover. The end results are independent and responsible students who are eager to continue their learning and pursue their passions. Programmed with hands-on learning classrooms that include a woodshop, robotics lab, and teaching kitchen, the Innovation Lab embraces a holistic approach to design and engagement with the natural environment. As the focal point of the master plan, which was developed by the lab’s design team, it clarifies the organization of the campus and injects it with new vitality suitable for 21st century learning.

The Innovation Lab addresses the school’s critical need to participate fully in the shifting focus of education while keeping its mission in mind. Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics were all areas in which the school hoped to expand programming, bringing its unique focus to the subjects in a collaborative learning environment. Early on, the new building was simply envisioned as a learning lab for the school’s 450 students. Through the design process, the focus was narrowed to a series of collaborative spaces specifically tailored to woodworking, chemistry, and physics that prompt students to explore rather than rely on instruction.

Wrapped in copper and featuring cypress wood planks outside and in, the building’s material palette, both warm and refined, is at home among the original buildings. Inside, the typical cellular classroom arrangement is eschewed in favor of an open landscape that encourages exploration. Its porous nature allows students to flow between indoor classrooms and outdoor learning opportunities that are rooted in the local ecology, presenting students with ample opportunities to consider new ideas and experiment.

Echoing the educational values and vision of the school, this new addition to campus will no doubt foster the ideals of collaboration and the bonds that form among students who work and learn in harmony.

Additional information

Project team

Acoustic: Dr. Tahar Messadi

Building Code: SSTL Codes, Inc.

Engineer - MEP: Reed, Wells, Benson & Company

Engineer - Geotechnical: Terracon Consultants, Inc.

Engineer – Structural/Civil: Raymond L. Goodson Jr., Inc.

General Contractor: Hill & Wilkinson, Ltd.

Landscape: Talley Associates

Lighting: Essential Light Design Studio


Judith P. Hoskens, Assoc. AIA, (Chair), Cuningham Group Architecture, Inc.  

Malcolm Holzman, FAIA, Holzman Moss Bottino Architecture

Dina Sorensen, Assoc. AIA, Learning Environment Project Designer & Research Liaison

Lawrence W. Speck, FAIA, Page Southerland Page, Inc.

Amy Yurko, AIA, BrainSpaces Inc.

Image credits

Main Hallway Facing the Environmental Science Lab

Timothy Hursley

The Lamplighter School Innovation Lab-07

Timothy Hursley

Ariel View of the Innovation Lab with downtown Dallas in the background

Timothy Hursley

View of teaching kitchen

Timothy Hursley

View facing east entry porch of Innovation Lab

Timothy Hursley