King Open/Cambridge Street Upper School & Community Complex

Architecture firm: Arrowstreet Inc. in association with William Rawn Associates

Owner: City of Cambridge, Cambridge Public Schools

Location: Cambridge, Mass.

Category: Excellence

Project site: Previously developed

Building program type(s): Education - K-12 school

In uniting two Cambridge, Massachusetts, schools, this project establishes a new model for school design, one that integrates social and family service programs that form a support system for students, families, and the surrounding community. Linking King Open Elementary and Cambridge Street Upper School, the project shapes a highly sustainable and healthy community resource that offers the city’s youngest citizens an inspiring learning environment. The end result is a school that is net zero emissions, consumes no fossil fuels on-site, and incorporated Cambridge’s largest solar array to produce more than 60% of its required energy.

After immersing itself in the community, the design team discovered two main ideas that shaped the vision for the project: the importance of open space in the dense urban neighborhood and the city’s commitment to inclusion and lifelong learning. Across its 273,000 square feet, the complex includes an elementary school, upper school, the city’s public school administrative office, an afterschool program, community pools, a branch library, and more than one acre of open space.

"This inviting project achieves net zero for an average cost in a challenging climate. The jury appreciated how the entry incorporates all the things this campus does." - Jury comment

Throughout, an array of spaces to gather, recreate, and reflect offer something for all users. All of its programmatic elements were designed by the team to work together in creating a complex that serves as the neighborhood’s new heart. Its massing reflects a civic amenity that was located on the site since 1895, and its scale was honed to fit seamlessly into its residential context. The building is divided into two parts, reducing its overall scale while simultaneously forming a central green spine that connects to the city and the adjacent Donnelly Field. Its curved forms connect its two halves to create a new civic plaza, while the arc of the terracotta-clad school building continues through the library’s glazed façade to create a transparent and welcoming beacon that activates the plaza.

Feedback gathered through numerous user group sessions informed the project’s role as a true community center that acknowledges the community’s needs and respect for equity, diversity, and inclusion. The complex doubles the size of the preschool, providing more accessible educational space for all residents, while the kitchen incorporates recipes from families that represent their cultural traditions. The schools’ autism spectrum disorder and special education programs provide an inclusive learning experience for all students while addressing sensory and physical needs.

"The community engagement and integration are this project’s highlights and can serve as a model for other schools. When schools become shared resources and are active all year, it changes the conversation around municipal cost and benefit." - Jury comment

The project is part of the city’s Innovation Agenda, an ambitious plan that seeks to advance its public schools into the 21st century and prepare students for the future. Through a robust planning process and thoughtful design, the complex reinforces each school’s pedagogy while allowing for future flexibility. Each grade is arranged into neighborhoods that feature large classrooms, shared project-based breakout rooms, student services, and faculty workrooms.

As a leader in science and technology, Cambridge set an additional goal to include a curriculum reflective of its commitment. Science and STEAM rooms put learning on display through their prominent placement, and the ground-floor STEAM corridor faces an exterior Learning Courtyard to encourage teamwork and learning that extends beyond the classroom walls. The building itself is a learning lab, and its sustainable features are displayed in a manner that prompts learning opportunities. Its interior includes digital dashboards at every entry, custom educational graphics, display areas for student projects, and visible heating and cooling elements.

The project is a pilot for Net Zero Cambridge, a plan that was developed as a response to the community’s desire to achieve a healthier and more resilient city. As such, it has helped clarify the overall plan and has become a demonstration program for how a net zero emissions building can be designed and financed.  

Additional information

Project attributes

Year of substantial project completion: 2019

Gross conditioned floor area: 233,988 sq ft

Project team

Acoustics & AV: Acentech

Commissioning: Stephen Turner Inc.

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

Consultant - Code: R.W. Sullivan

Consultant - Energy/net zero: In Posse

Consultant - LEED: Soden Sustainability Consulting

Engineer - Civil: Nitsch Engineering

Engineer - Geotechnical: CDM Smith

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

Engineer - Structural: LeMessurier Consultants, Inc.

Engineering Cost Estimating: VJ Associates

Food Services: Crabtree McGrath Associates

Furniture, Fixtures, & Equipment: Point Line Space

Landscape Architect: Copley Wolff Design Group

Lighting: HLB Lighting Design

Pool Design: Aquatic Design Group

Specifications: Kalin Associates

Traffic: VHB  


Diego Barrera, AIA (Chair), Stantec, Plano, Texas

Richey Madison, AIA, SmithGroup, Los Angeles

Xuemei Zhu, Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas

Pam Loeffelman, FAIA, DLR Group, Estes Park, Colo.

Oswaldo Rivera-Ortiz, Assoc. AIA, Dallas Independent School District, Dallas

Image credits

King Open-Cambridge Street Upper School & Community Complex-03

Robert Benson Photography

King Open-Cambridge Street Upper School & Community Complex-04

2020 Anthony Crisafulli

flexible learning breakout room

Robert Benson Photography

STEAM hub at the entrance lobby

Horne Visuals

Library learning commons

Robert Benson Photography