The design team created a kid-centric, place-based, wayfinding narrative that went beyond navigation to support a larger vision of spatial interaction.

The goal of this project is to address growing student enrollment in Arlington while reaching for the highest standards possible – in instructional space as well as sustainability, operating costs, and flexibility. The school was designed to be a “net zero” energy building, meaning that the amount of energy provided by on-site renewable energy sources is equal to the amount of energy used. To this end, careful attention was focused on designing and building a school that supports how and where students learn. Every nook and cranny of the school is arranged to create a seamless integration between design, sustainability, and learning.

The design team created a kid-centric, place-based, wayfinding narrative that went beyond navigation to support a larger vision of spatial interaction. This approach supports grade-level identity while also engaging and educating users as they interact with the building and develop on-going relationships with the space over time. Three main goals informed the project’s design approach:

1) Cultivate a deep understanding of the client and users;

2) Create a resonant story, including wayfinding visuals, that is visually and emotionally appealing to the client and users;

3) Design a space that – through various scales, materials, locations, and sensory touch points – serves as a teaching tool to activate learning and engage students in the educational process.

The goal of this project is to address growing student enrollment in Arlington while reaching for the highest standards possible – in instructional space as well as sustainability, operating costs, and flexibility. The school was designed to be a “net zero” energy building, meaning that the amount of energy provided by on-site renewable energy sources is equal to the amount of energy used. To this end, careful attention was focused on designing and building a school that supports how and where students learn. Every nook and cranny of the school is arranged to create a seamless integration between design, sustainability, and learning.

The design team created a kid-centric, place-based, wayfinding narrative that went beyond navigation to support a larger vision of spatial interaction. This approach supports grade-level identity while also engaging and educating users as they interact with the building and develop on-going relationships with the space over time. Three main goals informed the project’s design approach:

1) Cultivate a deep understanding of the client and users;

2) Create a resonant story, including wayfinding visuals, that is visually and emotionally appealing to the client and users;

3) Design a space that – through various scales, materials, locations, and sensory touch points – serves as a teaching tool to activate learning and engage students in the educational process.

The design team created a kid-centric, place-based, wayfinding narrative that went beyond navigation to support a larger vision of spatial interaction.
The design team created a kid-centric, place-based, wayfinding narrative that went beyond navigation to support a larger vision of spatial interaction.

Once the wayfinding scope was established, a community-based design process empowered students to vote on the school mascot, colors, and school name. The “Discovery Explorers” name reflects the forward-looking, inquiry-based learning that takes place in the building and also serves as a tribute to John Glenn, who lived adjacent to the site when he became the first American to orbit the earth in 1962. In 1998, while still a sitting senator, Glenn returned to space as a crew member of the space shuttle “Discovery,” becoming the oldest person to fly in space.

As students progress through the school, their world expands – with the first floor themed around earth eco-systems and the second floor themed around the sky and solar system. Students start out as Backyard Adventurers in Kindergarten and finish Fifth Grade as Galaxy Voyagers. This storyline is graphically communicated along an entry wall highlighting each Explorer grade level. On the first day of school, Explorers are able to “make their mark” in their expanding world and follow along as the mark moves throughout their journey at Discovery.

When students advance grade-wise, so does the scope of their expanding world, both in graphics and in pedagogy. Integrated in the wayfinding are colors, icons, and educational signage featuring real-world facts related to grade-level theming – which collectively transform wayfinding features into creative educational opportunities. The theming fosters a safe and secure environment for students of all ages and learning abilities to feel comfortable in, while also allowing opportunities for choice and flexibility to support different learning styles, expressions, and arrangements.

Taken together, these spaces add up to a school that students do not want to leave at the end of the day and can’t wait to return to in the morning.

Once the wayfinding scope was established, a community-based design process empowered students to vote on the school mascot, colors, and school name. The “Discovery Explorers” name reflects the forward-looking, inquiry-based learning that takes place in the building and also serves as a tribute to John Glenn, who lived adjacent to the site when he became the first American to orbit the earth in 1962. In 1998, while still a sitting senator, Glenn returned to space as a crew member of the space shuttle “Discovery,” becoming the oldest person to fly in space.

As students progress through the school, their world expands – with the first floor themed around earth eco-systems and the second floor themed around the sky and solar system. Students start out as Backyard Adventurers in Kindergarten and finish Fifth Grade as Galaxy Voyagers. This storyline is graphically communicated along an entry wall highlighting each Explorer grade level. On the first day of school, Explorers are able to “make their mark” in their expanding world and follow along as the mark moves throughout their journey at Discovery.

When students advance grade-wise, so does the scope of their expanding world, both in graphics and in pedagogy. Integrated in the wayfinding are colors, icons, and educational signage featuring real-world facts related to grade-level theming – which collectively transform wayfinding features into creative educational opportunities. The theming fosters a safe and secure environment for students of all ages and learning abilities to feel comfortable in, while also allowing opportunities for choice and flexibility to support different learning styles, expressions, and arrangements.

Taken together, these spaces add up to a school that students do not want to leave at the end of the day and can’t wait to return to in the morning.

The design team created a kid-centric, place-based, wayfinding narrative that went beyond navigation to support a larger vision of spatial interaction.

“The physical design of the school itself is very inspirational to students. They love coming here, they love being in this space, and they love learning in this space … The students know that they’re in a special place … When you put those things together, you end up with students that are really excited to be here. They know that every day is an opportunity to learn and to grow.”

– Chris Vaccaro Discovery Elementary School 3rd Grade Teacher
The design team created a kid-centric, place-based, wayfinding narrative that went beyond navigation to support a larger vision of spatial interaction.
The design team created a kid-centric, place-based, wayfinding narrative that went beyond navigation to support a larger vision of spatial interaction.
The design team created a kid-centric, place-based, wayfinding narrative that went beyond navigation to support a larger vision of spatial interaction.

Client: Arlington Public Schools

Location: Arlington, VA

Discipline: School Branding, Educational Signage, Wayfinding, ADA/Code

Completion: 2015

Size: 98,000 SF New Construction