Awards of Excellence 2019
ISTUDIO Architects
Powell Elementary School

Powell Elementary School
Award of Excellence
Best Institutional Facility

Project Team

DC Department of General Services - (Owner)
ISTUDIO Architects - (Architect)
MCN Build - (General Contractor)
DC Department of General Services - (Broker)

Executive Summary

Inspirational places empower educational programs. Two new additions to Powell Elementary School, bring a historic building, constructed in 1929 into the 21st Century. Sustainable strategies are built into the DNA of this LEED-S Gold building, because a healthy school is a healthy learning environment. Four key concepts are explored in the design: differentiated learning, out-door program, fresh air and daylighting.

Differentiated learning, at its core, is an educational concept that responds to and provides for the various way students learn. Through architecture, the design fosters inclusive core spaces for 21st century learning to take place. The corridors with angular nooks and seating arrangements invite collaborative small group sessions. The colorful entrance and bench seating at each classroom delineates space for one-on-one stu-dent and teacher engagement. The atrium is not only the crux of the original historic building and modern additions, but is also utilized as a learning anchor. The double height space functions as additional breakout classrooms with stadium seating. Accessible curricu-lum gardens and green roofs further provide additional teaching areas. These outdoor roof spaces diversify learning experiences and connect students and teach-ers with the surrounding environment.

An intrinsic design challenge posed by urban schools is balancing the increasing needs for versatile indoor programs, outdoor classrooms, play spaces and miti-gating stormwater runoff. Powell’s newly constructed additions are arranged specifically around the outdoor space, making it an integral component and showpiece of the design. Two of the stairwells are relocated to the exterior of the building envelope, reducing the mechan-ically conditioned floor area while providing students and teachers access to fresh air in between classes. Green roofs on each addition further achieve the storm-water requirements, reduce the heat island effect, and double as open-air classrooms. From these spaces stu-dents and teachers can peer inside the solar chimney, hear the system turn on, and have access to curriculum gardens on the rooftop. Educational signage informs students about the ways their school is sustainably contributing to the environment.

Passive design works with existing climatic and site conditions to reduce the amount of energy needed to heat and cool a building. Solar chimneys provide cool fresh air without the use of any energy. A concept more than a thousand years old — it works just like a fireplace chimney, except instead of smoke, it exhausts hot, stale air. This design was inspired by the initial survey of the orig-inal 1929 building. Cavities were detected in the corri-dor walls along with unidentified grilles in every class-room. It was discovered that the cupola was designed as an attic vent for the rising hot air, with windows to accelerate the process. However, over the years, the louvers were sealed shut, and the cupola ceased to function as a natural ventilation system. Working close-ly with the mechanical engineer and investigating the original system, the cupola was restored to its original function as a solar chimney. This feature inspired the new solar chimneys for the Building C addition. For the first modern-day solar chimney design in a DC public school, each one is con-nected to a rooftop weather station and indicator lights in every classroom — telling the students to open the windows when conditions are right. Upon opening the windows, the primary HVAC system shuts down, the so-lar chimney vents open, and cool air from the windows move hot air up and out through the solar chimney.

Natural daylight in schools improves the working environment for staff and students and saves electri-cal energy. The single-loaded corridors with filtered daylight are swing spaces that fluctuate in a larger tem-perature range to reduce mechanical heating + cooling costs. These hallways, bays, and portals recieve ample daylight with views overlooking the green spaces. The perforated metal screens control daylight by avoiding visual discomfort while offering exterior views. The metal fins are designed to specific angles to maximize incoming daylight and minimumize glare. Skylights in the library and science labs capture diffused northern light to provide appropriate task lighting. Sunscreens and strategically located trees reduce solar glare and heat gain.


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