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Virginia is home to Bjarke Ingels’ first U.S. public school

The school encourages indoor-outdoor learning.

October 29, 2019 |
The Heights at dusk

All photos: Laurian Ghinitoiu

The Heights, Bjarke Ingels Group’s first U.S. public school, merges two existing secondary schools (H-B Woodlawn and Eunice Kennedy Shriver) into one 180,000-sf building with space for up to 775 students.

The project, located in Arlington, Va., is situated on a compact site bounded by roads on three sides and a portion of Rosslyn Highlands Park. The Heights supports the visual and performing arts-focused curricula of H-B Woodlawn and the extensive resources for students with specialized educational needs of Enice Kennedy Shriver.


The Heights lobby


Students and staff are greeted by a triple-height lobby with stepped seating that doubles as an indoor gathering space for student assemblies and public gatherings. Adjacent to the lobby are many of the school’s common spaces including the 400-seat auditorium, main gymnasium, library, reception, and cafeteria. Other student spaces include an art studio, science and robotic labs, music rehearsal rooms, and two performing arts theaters.


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The Heights stairwell and gymnasium


Classroom bars, each defined by its own color, are the primary organizing elements and surround a central vertical core that contains the elevators, stairs, and bathrooms. The Shriver Program occupies two floors of the building, which are accessible from the ground floor and have specialized spaces dedicated to support APS’ Functional Life Skills program as well as privacy and ease of accessibility. The gym, courtyard, occupational physical therapy suite, and sensory cottage are designed to aid in sensory processing.


The Heights classroom bar


The building is conceived as a stack of five rectangular floorplates that rotate around a fixed pivot point, which creates a cascade of green terraces. The terraces become an extension of the classroom to create an indoor-outdoor learning landscape. The four tiered terraces are connected via a rotating central staircase that cuts through the interior of the building, allowing students to circulate outside. The upper terraces are suitable for intimate classes and quiet study areas while the spacious first terrace and the 18,700-sf recreation field serve as public event venues.


The Heights recreation field


White glazed brick unifies the five volumes and highlights the oblique angles of the fanning classroom bars. The material palette pays homage to the historical architecture of Old Town Alexandria.

The Heights is on track to achieve LEED Gold. Bjarke Ingles Group designed the project with LEO A DALY as the executive architect.


The Heights outdoor green space


The heights green space


The Heights entry

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