bjarke ingels group's first public school in the US features cascading green terraces

bjarke ingels group's first public school in the US features cascading green terraces

following the isenberg school of management at the university of massachusetts amherst, glasir tórshavn college in the faroe islands, and WeWork’s WeGrow in new york city, bjarke ingels group (BIG) has now completed another school project — this time in the US state of virginia. previously featured on designboom here, ‘the heights’ merges two existing arlington schools into a new building that can accommodate up to 775 students. designed as a ‘vertical community’, the building comprises a cascade of green terraces fanning from a central axis.

all images by laurian ghinitoiu



BIG, and the project’s executive architect LEO A DALY, were commissioned to complete the project in 2015. the development is located along arlington’s rosslyn-ballston corridor and combines two schools: the H-B woodlawn program and the eunice kennedy shriver program. the educational facilities have been designed to support both H-B woodlawn’s visual and performing arts-focused curricula, and shriver’s extensive resources for students with specialized educational needs.



situated on a compact urban site bound by roads on three sides and a portion of rosslyn highlands park, the building has been conceived as a stack of five rectangular floorplates that rotate around a fixed pivot point — a configuration that seeks to maintain the community feeling and spatial efficiencies of a one-story school. meanwhile, green terraces above each floor become an extension of the classroom, creating an indoor-outdoor learning landscape for both students and teachers.



a rotating central staircase cuts through the interior of the building to connect the four-tiered terraces, allowing students to circulate outside and forge a stronger bond between the neighborhood and the school. while the upper terraces are more suitable for intimate classes and quiet study areas, the spacious first terrace and 18,700 square foot recreation field also serve as public event venues for school-wide and neighborhood activities.



‘the density of the urban arlington neighborhood became the inspiration for the school — we fanned the classrooms to allow each and every floor to be connected to the roof garden on top of the classrooms below,’ explains bjarke ingels, founder & creative director, BIG. ‘the resultant cascading terraces are connected by a curving stair that weaves through all levels — inside as well as outside — making all students, from both programs and all ages, visually and physically connected to each other. each terrace is landscaped to lend itself not just to the social life of the students but also as informal outdoor spaces for learning.’



‘the heights extends the educational experience outdoors, transforming terraces into a space where learning and playing can flourish,’ adds daniel sundlin, partner, BIG. ‘from every floor, students and teachers can immediately connect with nature and the surrounding neighborhood, creating a 21st century school as well as a space for arlington’s children, parents, teachers and neighbors to gather.’



from wilson boulevard, students, teachers and staff are greeted by a triple-height lobby with stepped seating that doubles as an indoor gathering space for both student assemblies and public gatherings. many of the school’s common spaces, including the 400-seat auditorium, main gymnasium, library, reception, and cafeteria, are centrally located adjacent to the lobby. other specialized student spaces include an art studio, science and robotic labs, music rehearsal rooms, and two performing arts theaters.



providing special education for students aged 11 to 22, the shriver program occupies two floors of the building and is accessible from the ground floor. here, specialized spaces are dedicated to support arlington public schools’ functional life skills program as well as privacy and ease of accessibility: the gymnasium, courtyard, occupational physical therapy suite, and sensory cottage are all designed to aid in sensory processing. see designboom’s previous coverage of the project here.



project info:


name: the heights building
size: 180,000 sqf / 16,700 sqm
location: arlington, virginia, USA
client: arlington public schools
design architect: BIG-bjarke ingels group
executive architect: LEO A DALY
collaborators: leo a daly, robert silman associates, interface engineering, gordon, theatre projects, jaffe holden, faithful+gould, GHD, hopkins food service, geoconcepts, haley aldrich, the sextant group, tillotson design associates, EHT traceries, lerch bates, sustainable design consulting


BIG – bjarke ingels group —
partners-in-charge: bjarke ingels, daniel sundlin, beat schenk, thomas christoffersen
project managers: aran coakley, sean franklin
project leaders: tony-saba shiber, ji-young yoon, adam sheraden
team: amina blacksher, anton bashkaev, benjamin caldwell, bennett gale, benson chien, cadence bayley, cristian lera, daisy zhong, deborah campbell, douglass alligood, elena bresciani, elnaz rafati, evan rawn, francesca portesine, ibrahim salman, jack gamboa, jan leenknegt, janice rim, jin xin, josiah poland, julie kaufman, kam chi cheng, ku hun chung, margherita gistri, maria sole bravo, mark rakhmanov, mateusz rek, maureen rahman, nicholas potts, pablo costa, ricardo palma, robyne some, romea muryn, saecheol oh, seo young shin, seth byrum, shu zhao, sidonie muller, simon david, tammy teng, terrence chew, valentina mele, vincenzo polsinelli, zach walters, ziad shehab

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