Discovery Elementary School

Architect: VMDO Architects

Owner: Arlington Public Schools

Location: Arlington, Virginia

Project site: Previously developed land

Building program type(s): Education–K-12 School

www.vmdo.com

Discovery Elementary School is the largest zero-energy school in the US. The challenge was to integrate a 98,000 sq ft building into a residential neighborhood while keeping the entire PV array on the roof. By terracing the mass into a south facing hill, the project met local goals for scale, community goals for preservation of flat, open space for recreation, and global goals for ideal orientation for solar generation. Discovery offers a positive example of a solution to the global crisis of climate change–and along the way emboldens students with the expectation that they are creative participants in those solutions.

Image: VMDO Architects

Discovery Elementary is Arlington Public Schools’ first elementary school designed in the 21st century. Built to address rapidly growing enrollment, the project was designed to meet a larger goal: to prove what can truly be achieved with a new public school facility. Under particular scrutiny, this was the first project in a capital improvement program that is in the process of adding over 500,000 sq ft of new school construction to the nation’s smallest county.

Two important design process criteria were paramount: challenge the tendency of low expectations, and focus on children first. The resulting primary design goal was to provide a joyful and engaging environment for learning–a place students couldn’t wait to get to in the morning and didn’t want to leave in the afternoon. The secondary goal was to design a building that would not just use less resources, but make a regenerative contribution to the well-being of its occupants, site and the world at large—specifically regarding the crisis of climate change.

A specific site challenge was to integrate the 63,000+ sq ft building footprint into a residential neighborhood hostile to the urbanization occurring elsewhere in the county. By breaking down the mass and terracing the building into a south facing hill, the project met local goals for scale, community goals for the preservation of flat, open space for recreation, and global goals for ideal orientation for solar generation.

The school is the first net zero energy school in the Mid-Atlantic, the largest in the US, and the second largest fully-conditioned zero energy building of any type in North America. Discovery offers a positive example of a solution to the global crisis of climate change—and along the way emboldens students with the expectation that they are creative participants in those solutions.

Additional information

Project attributes

Year of design completion: 2014

Year of substantial project completion: 2016

Gross conditioned floor area: 97,588 sq ft

Gross unconditioned floor area: 0 square feet

Number of stories: 2

Project Climate Zone: 4 (ASHRAE)

Annual hours of operation: 3,410

Site area: 640,332 sq ft

Project site context/setting: Suburban

Cost of construction, excluding furnishing: $33.5 million

Number of residents, occupants, visitors: 715

Project team

Engineer (mechanical, lighting, net-nero energy design: CMTA Consulting Engineers

Engineer (power, plumbing, fire protection): 2rw Consultants Inc.

Engineer (structural): Fox + Associates

Engineer (civil): Bowman Consulting Group

Food service consultant: EIS Inc.

Landscape architect: Oculus

Traffic: Toole Design Group

Cost estimating: Downey & Scott

Construction manager: Heery

Jury

Annie Chu, FAIA IIDA

CHU + GOODING ARCHITECTS

Woodbury University

Los Angeles, California

Steve Kieran, FAIA, LEED AP BD+C

Kieran Timberlake

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

David Lake, FAIA

Lake Flato

San Antonio, Texas

Bungane Mehlomakulu, PE LEED AP

Integral Group

Austin, Texas

Amanda Sturgeon, FAIA

Living Futures Institute

Seattle, Washington

Jury comments

"This project sets a new standard for public schools to achieve net zero energy in a challenging climate and makes excellent design decisions that reduce energy through daylighting and site integration. The building section responds to the slope of the site and provides views and connection to the outside for all classrooms.

In addition to being one of the few net zero energy schools in the United States, the project also demonstrated rainwater harvesting and rain gardens while making significant water savings. This project gives students the opportunity to enjoy hands-on learning around energy efficiency and generation."

Sponsors

Image credits

COTE 2017_17

Alan Karchmer & VMDO Architects

COTE 2017_15

Alan Karchmer; Digital Design & Imaging Service, Inc; & VMDO Architects

COTE 2017_13

Alan Karchmer & VMDO Architects

COTE 2017_7

Alan Karchmer; Lincoln Barbour & VMDO Architects

COTE 2017_8

Lincoln Barber & VMDO Architect

COTE 2017_4

Lincoln Barbour & VMDO Architects

COTE 2017_14

Alan Karchmer; Lincoln Barbour; VMDO Architects

COTE 2017_