Designed by VMDO and opened in 1990, Crozet Elementary School is the recipient of this year’s Test of Time Award – an honor that recognizes this humble, rural, and transformational public elementary school for its “architectural design of enduring significance.”
Thirty years later, AIA Virginia recognizes VMDO’s design for achieving a high standard of excellence and inspiring students, faculty, and staff with a unique and enduring design vision. Crozet Elementary is an enduring example of a public school project that challenged assumptions about the design of public schools in Virginia.
The design of Crozet Elementary was inspired by the values of public education and the sense of community in this tight-knit, agrarian village in western Albemarle County. It is one of eleven elementary schools in Albemarle County Public Schools. Designed like a village of small one-room school houses joined together in a semicircle, the building brings together different spaces and programs around the central Rotunda-like library. Instead of a giant brick box of uniform expression like other schools of its era, Crozet Elementary’s “village” consists of thoughtfully programmed spaces layered to express increasing scales of community.
Recognizing public expectations, VMDO’s design balanced the conventional main façade with a more progressive design throughout the rest of the 47,000 square feet of learning space. The school’s wings join together to encircle the library, in a nod to Thomas Jefferson’s placement of the Rotunda library at the center of his ideal campus plan less than 20 miles away. The library is the focal point and the heart of the school, and the enduring architectural characteristic that generations of students remember and cherish.
Lead designers BobMoje, FAIA, RandyLivermon, AIA, and Dan Simpson (now a principal at ZGF), aimed to engender a bigger vision in students for a lifelong love of learning through the power of good school design. The school’s vernacular style aims to rekindle the idea of the community school and its role in inspiring civic pride. The design provides a vital community resource through flexible configurations – a concept running contrary to the prevailing trend for windowless, brick box schools. This design approach has helped raise awareness of the importance of communal spaces, healthy indoor and outdoor areas, and economical yet inventive uses of materials for public schools in Virginia.
The school makes a compelling case that indeed a rural public school can be a transformational learning space and proved, through the test of time, that good design is vital to the next generation of students and teachers.
“I know Crozet Elementary School very well and have a deep appreciation for the enduring quality of its design,” wrote Karen Marcus, School Principal from 2005 to 2010. “I believe that it set a new bar for school design and its legacy as an enjoyable and positive learning environment will last far into the future.”