The Bush School’s New Upper School Building designed by Mithun
was recognized with an Award of Honor and Energy in Design Award at the 72nd Annual American Institute of Architects (AIA) Honor Awards for Washington Architecture on Monday, November 7. The nationally-recognized program provides an important opportunity for the AIA design community to share and celebrate its achievements, both among practitioners and with the community at-large.
The New Upper School Building was one of three projects recognized with the 2022 Award of Honor. Noting the relationship between historic Gracemont Alumni Hall and the new building, the jury noted, “This symbiotic connection creates a unique narrative between generations of learning spaces built a century apart that are woven into a common educational alignment. Most importantly for the jury, it defines a new visible edge of the campus to inspire broader change in the community.”
This building also received the 2022 Energy in Design Award which has been awarded to one project annually for the past seven years which embodies good design that reduces energy use and eliminates dependence on fossil fuels while improving building performance, function, comfort, and enjoyment. This aspect of the project was notable in our region as the building, “...features a wide array of indoor and connected outdoor learning and social spaces that amplify The Bush School curriculum while honoring site ecology and campus context. The jury also greatly appreciated the use of extensive passive strategies to reduce the load on renewable energy sources.”
Mithun captured the school’s commitment to sustainability and positive change in the stewardship statement submitted to AIA about the New Upper School Building.
As this city and region densify, the importance of urban schools continues to rise as a core part of our community and civic infrastructure. The Bush School has embraced this need and committed their passion and resources to create a new model of urban educational space that not only provides needed program spaces for their curriculum but also creates a visible beacon of stewardship and environmental performance in the external urban community to inspire positive change beyond the school limits.
This building inserts itself into a tight urban campus site adjacent to the school’s origin facility, historic Gracemont Hall. This symbiotic connection creates a unique narrative between generations of learning spaces built a century apart that are woven into a common educational alignment. The new upper school design is the direct result of inspired school and community stakeholder engagement that quickly focused on what this project could achieve beyond typical standards to be a symbol of change to other institutions and community development.
Early in the process, three key performance goals became the foundation of the design effort: Passive House (PHIUS) certification, Net Zero Energy certification and Salmon Safe certification. These goals were carefully protected from the normal value engineering process through strained economic and pandemic periods, with the client, design and construction teams working together to realize this stewardship vision. Through careful integration of envelope design rigor and constructability detailing in collaboration with the build team, this project will be the first school in the western United States to achieve Passive House certification and is the first Salmon Safe certified school in the country.
Given the limited buildable area, the project footprint is scribed between steep slopes, historic buildings and numerous exceptional trees on the site that were carefully protected during design and construction. The project navigates a significant grade change between the lower and upper campus spaces and provides an accessibility link between these levels to enhance inclusion and provide universal access for students and staff that previously did not exist at the campus. This new lower level access also enabled the insertion of a large multi-purpose community gathering space sized to accommodate all-school gathering and learning for the Bush Upper School.
At the upper learning space levels, the building employs an expressed Mass Plywood Panel (MPP) structural system that is integral to the building structure as well as interior furnishing and design elements to promote tactile awareness of stewardship. Strategic transparency and daylight harvesting enhance the functionality of classroom and shared learning and circulation spaces while creating visual connections to nature. This modest-scale building features a wide array of indoor and connected outdoor learning and social spaces that amplify the Bush School curriculum while honoring site ecology and campus context. Importantly, it defines a new visible edge of the campus to inspire broader change in the community.