Sidwell Friends Middle School

Sidwell Friends Middle School in Washington, District of Columbia by Kieran Timberlake Associates

Photographs are copyright Barry Halkin.

According to architects Kieran Timberlake Associates, their design of the Sidwell Friends Middle School addition and renovation -- part of a larger master plan the firm completed in 2001 -- "transforms an awkwardly-sited, undersized, fifty-year-old facility into an exterior and interior teaching landscape [...where] the landscape and building will co-exist within, and demonstrate, a broader network of [human and natural] systems." It is commendable approach that is an extension of the school's Quaker values and is strengthened by the quality of the architecture executed.

The roughly 40,000 sf (3,700 sm) addition doubles the existing building and more. Program spaces include music, art, and science classrooms, computer labs, counseling offices, and a library. The chevron-shaped existing building was renovated outside and in, forming a courtyard space with the L-shaped addition. The stepped outdoor space allows for outdoor learning while more importantly acting as a wetland to recycle the school's wastewater for reuse in the building's toilets while creating a natural habitat.

The wetland is but one of numerous sustainable strategies incorporated into the building's siting and architectural design. These include rainwater collection on a vegetated roof, photovoltaic panels on the roof, solar chimneys for passive ventilation, sustainable (especially local and native) materials, high-performance glass and exterior walls and roofs, and exterior sunscreens that respond to orientation to maximize passive passive heating and cooling. With all these elements, the building becomes a tool for teaching sustainability, from the materials and technology to water treatment and co-existing with local wildlife.

Architecturally, the most attention-getting gesture is surely the exterior sunscreens, placed vertically on east- and west-facing elevations to respond to the rising and setting sun, and placed horizontally on the south face (the north face is free of screens to maximize sunlight). One important outcome of these screens is a unification of the existing and addition into a cohesive entity, oriented about the courtyard, like an environmental anchor.