In planning the Burr Elementary School in Fairfield, Conn., the school's building committee heeded the words of William Wordsworth: Come forth into the light of things, let nature be your teacher.
They selected construction manager Turner Construction Company, New York, and the New York office of A/E firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill to integrate nature on the heavily wooded 15.5-acre site into the day-to-day experiences of the K-5 school's 500 students.
SOM's design realized the town's vision of bringing the outdoors inside by organizing classrooms along the east and west edges of the building. This program allowed existing trees to remain in place, perforating the interior of the plan and creating a series of courtyards that serve as outdoor classrooms.
Separating the bus drop-off on the south side from the parent drop-off on the north obviated the need to build a perimeter road encircling the school. As a result, classrooms face out onto wooded areas instead of parking lots.
Getting the curvilinear courtyard walls right was critical to the success of the project and required the close collaboration of the Building Team and the steel fabricator, United Steel, East Hartford, Conn. The walls were made from insulated glass panels measuring 4×11.5 feet and 4×9.5 feet in an aluminum mullion system. The top of the curving courtyard was defined by a continuous 27-inch-deep curved steel beam that supported the roof decking above and anchored the top edge of the glass wall below.