Burr Elementary School

Burr Elementary School in Fairfield, Connecticut by SOM

For the new Burr Street Fairfield Elementary School in Fairfield Connecticut, architect Skidmore, Owings and Merrill's objective is to bring architecture in contact with landscape at all levels of the design. This intention is facilitated by the use of curved and circular cut-outs in the building plan, creating internal courtyards and a generous entry and drop-off. In addition to the experiential and psychological aspects, SOM's design integrates "green" technology as well to go beyond aesthetics and symbolism.

To be completed in 2003, the 71,000 sf elementary school is spread across two floors, with double height spaces adjacent to the courtyards. The plan at left illustrates the combination of typical school program spaces - classrooms, administration, gym and auditorium contained in orthogonal bars at the left, right and bottom of the plan - with the more atypical dining and library spaces, among others, bordering the blob-shaped courtyards.

Clad in a local stone, the building, situated on a 15-acre wooded site attempts to integrate with the surroundings, retaining trees in the courtyards where possible. A low-energy curtain wall, designed by SOM, leads the list of "green" technologies, which also include recycled materials for interiors, storm water and irrigation systems and wetland pool areas. More importantly, the school will adopt programs to continue the sustainable design, including a waste management plan and use of preserved wetlands for educational purposes.

Although a relatively small commission for a firm like SOM, the Fairfield School requires the coordination of disciplines, such as environmental specialists, whose use in the United States is in the early stages. The internal resources of a large firm are helpful in a design with such strong environmental specialization, especially in the approval process when the local government may not be familiar with new, sustainable practices. Construction of projects like these are the strongest signs of progress towards a change in attitude at all levels, from the children at the school to all the people who help the school get built.