King Open/Cambridge Street Upper Schools & Community Complex

Architecture Firm: William Rawn Associates with Arrowstreet Inc.,

Owner: City of Cambridge, Cambridge Public Schools

Location: Cambridge, Mass.

Project site: Brownfield

Building program type(s):  Education – K-12 School, Office – 10,001 to 100,000 sq ft, Public Assembly – Library

Graphic showing the key sustainability features of the complex. Image: Arrowstreet Inc.

There were two city goals for the project: to be the first net zero emissions building in the city demonstrating a new net zero zoning; and to address the climate risks outlined in the vulnerability assessment. The project should meet those goals while creating a healthy, equitable environment for the community. The result is a learning lab for sustainability, wellness, and resiliency.    

Through months of community engagement, the design team heard two needs: the importance of open space in this dense urban neighborhood; and Cambridge’s commitment to inclusion, community, and lifelong learning. The building program elements were designed to create a complex that is the heart of the neighborhood and welcomes all. The project increases the green open space by almost an acre. The building is organized into two wings reducing the overall scale of the complex while creating a civic plaza along Cambridge Street and around a beloved centuries-old sycamore tree. The two wings create a green spine through the block, providing a connection to the park beyond. The massing significantly reduces energy use by grouping programs by operational hours, allowing for system setback for different areas.    

The project is a vital resource to address increased heat and economic vulnerability identified in the city's climate assessment by providing a pool, splash pad, and shade trees. Five distinct outdoor play spaces with seating are provided on the site to accommodate all ages. A bocce court, basketball courts, a reading garden, and reflection spaces support physical and emotional wellness. The building is open and airy, creating inviting, light-filled spaces. Separate entrances for each of the program elements give each program a unique identity. Natural materials, bright colors, fun patterns, community commissioned art, interactive displays, and signage all create a joyous place for all ages.

Additional information

Project attributes

Year of design completion: 2017

Year of substantial project completion: 2019

Gross conditioned floor area: 233,988 sq ft

Number of stories: 4

Project climate zone: ASHRAE 5A

Annual hours of operation: 3,500

Site area: 258,030 sq ft

Project site context/setting: Urban

Cost of construction, excluding furnishing: $130,000,000

Number of residents, occupants, visitors: 1,472

Project team

Acoustics & AV: Acentech

Architect: William Rawn Associates, Architects, Inc. in association with Arrowstreet, Inc.

Code: R.W. Sullivan  

Commissioning: Stephen Turner Inc.

Construction Manager: W.T. Rich/KBE Joint Venture

Design Traffic: VHB  

Energy/Net Zero: In Posse  

Engineer - Civil: Nitsch Engineering

Engineering Cost Estimating: VJ Associates

Engineer - MEP/FP: Garcia, Galuska & DeSousa, Inc.  

Engineer - Structural: LeMessurier Consultants, Inc.

FF&E: Point Line  

Food Services: Crabtree McGrath Associates  

Geotechnical: CDM Smith  

Landscape Architect: Copley Wolff Design Group

LEED: Soden Sustainability Consulting  

Lighting: HLB Lighting  

Pool Design: Aquatic Design Group  

Space Specifications: Kalin Associates  


Margaret Cavenagh, AIA, Chair, Studio Gang, Chicago

Angela Brooks, FAIA, Brooks + Scarpa, Los Angeles

Nakita Reed, AIA, NOMA, Quinn Evans, Baltimore

Z Smith, FAIA, Eskew Dumez Ripple, New Orleans

Image credits

Daylit cafeteria provides vibrant dining experience

Robert Benson Photography

Civic plaza and entry to community complex.

Robert Benson Photography

Roof supports 1,300 MWh PV array and rainwater is collected for irrigation and toilet flushing.

William Rawn Associates

Student Gallery.

Robert Benson Photography

Terracotta rainscreen has low embodied carbon.

Robert Benson Photography