Today’s institutions house much more than in the past. Existing facilities must accommodate expanded libraries, special-educational areas, and music/performing arts centers in order to successfully educate tomorrow’s students. Barrett Elementary School, a stately 1939 building, suffered numerous poorly-planned renovations that limited future growth on its landlocked site. Arlington County Public Schools desperately needed to increase capacity and, more importantly, to reorganize and add elements vital to a creative learning environment.

VMDO worked closely with parents, teachers, and students to refine the goals of the program. We reviewed past programming studies, redefined immediate and long-term needs, and made an effort to celebrate ethnic, racial and cultural backgrounds of the surrounding community.

The new additions create a new image for the school. To provide a focal point to the assemblage of additions and to facilitate the students’ safe arrival on an increasingly congested street, the architects created a clearly identifiable entrance at a larger scale than the existing front door, which was no longer useful. The new entry piece is independent from the building, a curved transparent wall of precast concrete joined with a curved handicapped ramp. Within the school, the musically-inspired curve is repeated in a series of functional and decorative pieces that unify the interior: an undulating wall in the lobby joins building and library entries; a sinuous and flexible wall of books encloses an intimately-scaled reading area in the library; a richly colored, radial grid of wood paneling in the music room marks it as an important space within the school.

The renovation is sympathetic to the original building, preserving the facade while providing modern imagery at the new corner entrance. Utilizing similar massing, cast stone banding and brick, the new addition and renovation injects orderly, comprehensible forms into what has been chaotic growth. The school now serves as a creative space for learning, while reaching out to the neighborhood's diverse community.

Today’s institutions house much more than in the past. Existing facilities must accommodate expanded libraries, special-educational areas, and music/performing arts centers in order to successfully educate tomorrow’s students. Barrett Elementary School, a stately 1939 building, suffered numerous poorly-planned renovations that limited future growth on its landlocked site. Arlington County Public Schools desperately needed to increase capacity and, more importantly, to reorganize and add elements vital to a creative learning environment.

VMDO worked closely with parents, teachers, and students to refine the goals of the program. We reviewed past programming studies, redefined immediate and long-term needs, and made an effort to celebrate ethnic, racial and cultural backgrounds of the surrounding community.

The new additions create a new image for the school. To provide a focal point to the assemblage of additions and to facilitate the students’ safe arrival on an increasingly congested street, the architects created a clearly identifiable entrance at a larger scale than the existing front door, which was no longer useful. The new entry piece is independent from the building, a curved transparent wall of precast concrete joined with a curved handicapped ramp. Within the school, the musically-inspired curve is repeated in a series of functional and decorative pieces that unify the interior: an undulating wall in the lobby joins building and library entries; a sinuous and flexible wall of books encloses an intimately-scaled reading area in the library; a richly colored, radial grid of wood paneling in the music room marks it as an important space within the school.

The renovation is sympathetic to the original building, preserving the facade while providing modern imagery at the new corner entrance. Utilizing similar massing, cast stone banding and brick, the new addition and renovation injects orderly, comprehensible forms into what has been chaotic growth. The school now serves as a creative space for learning, while reaching out to the neighborhood's diverse community.

Client: Arlington Public Schools

Location: Arlington, Virginia

Discipline: Primary & Elementary Schools

Completion: 1994

Size: 16,000 SF - New Construction 44,000 SF - Renovation