John Lewis Elementary School
Architecture firm: Perkins Eastman DC in association with Perkins Eastman Architects
Owner: DC Department of General Services
Location: Washington, D.C.
Project site: Previously developed
Building program type(s): Education - K-12 school
Designed to be the first Washington, D.C., school to achieve net zero energy, LEED Platinum, and WELL certifications, John Lewis Elementary School has set a new benchmark for educational facilities. Firmly rooted in design principles focused on civic presence, community connectivity, and the student experience, the school is a high-performing 21st-century learning environment that easily fits into the context of the larger residential neighborhood that surrounds it.
The ambitious school replaced a brutalist, open-plan building. However, the design team intentionally retained some of the former school’s best aspects, including flexible space and ease of communication. It complemented those characteristics with improved adjacencies, increased daylighting, enhanced security, and building performance with the ultimate goal of bolstering educational outcomes. Feedback from a pre-occupancy evaluation revealed that, despite the challenges of the old building, flexible space remained a desirable feature. To that end, the academic corridors in the new school bleed into flexible learning spaces that are accessible to every classroom through manual garage doors.
“The jury appreciated how the large school was scaled down to a child and incorporated whimsy." - Jury comment
The overarching design of the new school places a strong emphasis on outdoor recreation and connections to nature, both of which have been proven to support students’ well-being and achievement. Inside and out, it reads like a series of intimate and child-scaled houses that foster collaboration and relationships. Its civic presence includes a large photovoltaic array the team hopes will inspire the surrounding community to learn more about and embrace sustainable design. Since its opening, the school has become a cherished place for the community as a whole, and certain amenities remain accessible for broader use after-hours and on weekends.
“This project is the result of a strong collaborative design process and fits well into its environmental and neighborhood context. The jury loved the variety of colors and adornments as well as the mix of unstructured and formal learning environments.” - Jury comment
Through its textures, materials, and environmental quality, the school honors its proximity to Rock Creek Park, one of the District’s most prominent parks. This reflection is most noticeable in the library, where discovery zones and reading nooks encourage learning and socialization amidst the large-scale mural that serves as the backdrop to the school’s makerspace.
In the lobby, a high-performance dashboard tracks the school’s energy consumption and highlights its sustainable features. The dashboard is closely linked to the school’s curriculum, which addresses topics such as social and environmental justice, climate change, and water conservation. An important teaching tool, it provides teachers, students, and the larger community with a new understanding of the important connections that exist between themselves, the school, and the planet.
By better serving the student population, of which more than 70% are students of color, the school contributes to greater equity in the built environment. That commitment is also reflected in the school’s name, which the District purposefully changed to ensure students carry on U.S. Rep. John Lewis’ legacy of getting into “good trouble.”