The Lamplighter School Innovation Lab

Architect: Marlon Blackwell Architects

Owner: The Lamplighter School

Location: Dallas, TX

The Lamplighter School’s Innovation Lab, the conceptual and physical center of a master plan initiated in 2014, presents a new and distinct identity on the village-like campus in Dallas. O'Neil Ford originally designed the campus in the late 1960s, working closely with administrators to support their learning movement with open learning spaces and a deep connection to nature. The new architecture bolsters the school's innovative pedagogy and its focus on exploration and discovery while complementing other additions made in the 1980s and ’90s.

The team was charged from the project's outset to deliver a hands-on learning laboratory to serve the school's 450 students.

Since its founding in the mid-1950s, The Lamplighter School has shaped unique learning environments for students in pre-K through fourth grade. By encouraging students to take risks and make their own choices, the school hopes to create a new generation of forever learners keen on pursuing their passions.

The team was charged from the project's outset to deliver a hands-on learning laboratory to serve the school's 450 students. Extensive programming eventually revealed it to be a series of open spaces that support exploration rather than instruction. The Innovation Lab addresses Lamplighter’s desire to participate fully in the shifting focus of education while keeping its mission in mind. To that end, the school worked closely with the team to incorporate STEM principles into its existing collaborative learning environment.

Filled with light and deeply connected to the landscape, the Innovation Lab contains hands-on learning classrooms that include a woodshop, robotics lab, and teaching kitchen. As the focal point of the master plan, also developed by the design team, it clarifies the campus organization and imbues it with a vitality more in line with 21st-century learning.

The lab is wrapped in copper and features cypress wood planks both outside and in. Its overall material palette, both warm and refined, is at home among the original buildings. Its dynamic form defines the interior spaces, where the open environment compresses and expands under its shifting roof. 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 rooted in the local ecology, presenting students with ample opportunities to consider new ideas and experiment.

Echoing the school's educational values and vision, the lab fosters the ideals of collaboration among the students who learn within it. The team is now working on phase two of the project, which involves reconfiguring the school's existing administrative and teaching spaces while connecting them more directly to the natural world.

Additional information

Engineer - Civil: Raymond L. Goodson Jr. Inc.

Engineer - MEP: Reed, Wells, Benson, and Company

Engineer - Structural: Raymond L. Goodson Jr. Inc.

General Contractor: Hill + Wilkinson

Landscape Architect: Talley Associates, Inc.

Lighting Design: Essential Light Design Studio, LLC

Accessibility: Access by Design Inc.

Code: SSTL Codes


Kim Yao, AIA, Chair, Architecture Research Office (ARO), New York, New York

Phillip Bernstein, FAIA, Yale Architecture School, New Haven, Connecticut

Melissa Daniel, Assoc. AIA, Amentum, Annapolis Junction, Maryland

Magdalena Glen-Schieneman, AIA, MGS Architecture, Marina del Rey, California

Jim McDonald, FAIA, A&E Architects, Missoula, Montana

Marianne McKenna, KPMB Architects, Tornoto, Ontario

Conor Merrit, AIAS, University in St. Louis, Waite Hill, Ohio

Keith Lashley, AIA, HKS, Winter Haven, Florida

JoAnn Wilcox, AIA, Mithun, Seattle, Washington

Image credits

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Timothy Hursley

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Timothy Hursley

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Timothy Hursley

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Timothy Hursley

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Timothy Hursley