Schools Go to the Head of the Class


Old factories reborn as 21st-century learning hubs, holistic schools designed for healthier children, and day care befitting the children of "future Nobel Laureates" are among the newly crowned top educational facilities in the United States.

The American Institute of Architects (AIA) Committee on Architecture for Education (CAE) has announced the selections for this year’s CAE Educational Facility Design Awards.

The award honors educational facilities that exemplify innovation, "a superb place in which to learn," and excellence in architectural design.

"Function and surrounding regional and community context are valued as part of the planning and design process, as well as sustainability," AIA announced Thursday (Sept. 4).

The winners are listed below in alphabetical order. Full project details are available under each link. The project descriptions were provided by AIA.

Baltimore Design School (Baltimore, MD)
Ziger/Snead Architects

Baltimore Design School is a new Baltimore City Public combined middle and high school with a focus on fashion, architecture, and graphic design. The new school was created from an abandoned historic factory building.

The building’s transformation from blight to a state-of-the-art facility within the confines of a minimal budget demonstrates the power of design through best practices for historic renovation, adaptive reuse, educational design, and sustainable design.


The new Baltimore (MD) Design School (top) reflects a transformation of an abandoned historic factory site (bottom) constrained by a minimal budget.

A driving force in the project was the desire to develop creativity and design-informed critical thinking skills for public school students.

Buckingham County Primary & Elementary Schools

Carter G. Woodson Education Complex (Dillwyn, VA)
VMDO Architects, P.C.

Two Virginia mid-century schools are transformed into a cutting-edge, holistic learning environment for K-5 students with the aim to promote connectivity, creativity, health, and well-being. Evidence-based healthy design principles—integrated in the campus landscape and co-created by the client, architect, and a team of public health researchers—promote healthy eating, nutrition education, physical activity, and well-being. The campus also fosters design-research partnerships focused on sustainability, human health, and professional collaboration.

Drexel University College of Media Arts and Design URBN Center (Philadelphia)

MSR (Meyer, Scherer & Rockcastle, Ltd.)

The respectful repurposing of a landmark Venturi, Scott Brown decorated shed provides a new home for Drexel University’s College of Media Arts and Design. Key goals included bringing together disparate departments in one location and encouraging cross-collaboration between disciplines.


Drexel University's College of Media Arts and Design leveled the cube culture of its office building predecessor to usher in open, adaptable spaces for learning.

To transform the former 130,000-square-foot office building and 13,000-square-foot annex, the designers embraced the realities of the shed—a cost-effective, four-story commercial box.

The design concept focuses on respecting the original intent, making more with less, offering adaptable spaces for learning, and providing opportunities for learning through presentation.

University of Chicago Child Development Center

Wheeler Kearns Architects

When faced with the question "How do you design a day care for the children of future Nobel laureates?", one approach seemed promising: Instead of creating another place dominated by primary colors and synthetic play equipment, children could be offered an opportunity to discover natural phenomena in the natural world.

Thus, the design emphasizes the natural landscape over the built one, centered around two playscapes with a footprint larger than the building itself.


The University of Chicago's Child Development Center showcases a natural landscape, minimally processed natural materials, and two playscapes with a larger footprint than the building.

Relying heavily on minimally processed natural materials, the playscapes conceptually graft onto the historic Frederick Law Olmstead landscape located across the street in Jackson Park.

Wilkes Elementary School (Bainbridge Island, WA)

Wilkes Elementary School was designed to support dynamic styles of teaching and learning. Classrooms are located at the heart and linked on each end, providing a circulation pattern that prevents both the feeling and effect of isolation. Clusters of classrooms break down the scale and create four intimate learning communities.

This arrangement also fosters collaboration and connectivity, and creates opportunities for variation in scales of learning—from multi-classroom gatherings to individual experiences.

Central Arizona College - Maricopa (Maricopa, AZ)


Known for its history as a pre-railroad stagecoach town, the town of Maricopa has balanced its agricultural and Native American identities for the past century. Forty miles south of Phoenix, Maricopa has been chronicled by the New York Times as a bedroom community boomtown gone bust. Central Arizona College has made an investment in the community and is betting on its future. This campus represents a glimmer of hope in an area struck by the national recession.

Coastline Community College - Newport Beach (Newport Beach, CA)

The new interdisciplinary Newport Beach Campus provides a total of approximately 66,800 square feet to Coastline Community College, as well as hardscape and landscape.


The initial design challenge at Coastline Community College's Newport Beach Campus was to accommodate the program, once spread over a 10.5-acre campus, into a single building on 3.9 acres. A vertical, efficient design helped to minimize the building's footprint.

The project includes a 260-space parking lot directly adjacent to the structure. Key sustainable features, such as storm water management, natural ventilation, green roofs, living walls, maximized daylight and views of the ocean, are highlighted to achieve LEED Gold rating. The project exceeds CA Title 24 energy code by 33 percent.

James B. Hunt Jr. Library - North Carolina State University (Raleigh, NC)

Clark Nexsen Associated Firm: Snohetta

Large open spaces connect all floors of the library, and the use of stairs is emphasized to ensure an interactive and social environment between more focused study areas. Designed to LEED Silver requirements, the building features abundant natural light and expansive views of the nearby lake. Fritted glass and a fixed external aluminum shading system help diminish heat gain and maximize views and ambient natural light. Ceiling-mounted active chilled beams and radiant panels provide heating and cooling. Rain gardens and green roofs manage storm water.

Nathan Hale High School (Seattle, WA)


Nathan Hale is a progressive, public high school known for its collaborative, presentation-based curriculum and strong community connection.

NathanHaleHS NathanHaleHS

Modernizing Nathan Hale High School meant opening up the 1960s-era structure (left) to more natural light (center), allowing flexible spaces (right) that "breathe fresh air and daylight" and create an "inspirational environment."

This modernization and addition to the 1960s structure creates a flexible teaching facility that puts student life at the center of the school and unites the campus community. The design allows the building to breathe fresh air and daylight while respecting the existing structural rhythm.

Light-filled halls and classrooms, as well the building transparency, express the school’s values and provide a healthy, inspirational environment.

PAVE Academy Charter School (Brooklyn, NY)

Mitchell | Giurgola Architects, LLP

PAVE Academy is a 450-seat K-8 public charter school located on an isolated corner lot in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn.

The PAVE leadership team wanted a community-friendly school that would support significant parent involvement and the high-needs population. Children arrive early for a quiet breakfast and stay well into the afternoon with learning and play to fill a void many face at home.

Raisbeck Aviation High School (Tukwila, WA)

Bassetti Architects

Raisbeck Aviation High School was conceived as a response to Highline School District's proximity to the aviation industry, a desire to give students access to college and engineering professions, and an educational vision that melds hands-on, project-based learning with academic rigor.

The new 400-student STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) school, which shares a site with the Museum of Flight, immerses students in aerospace and aviation. The design supports this program physically, visually, and symbolically with project labs for aircraft and robotics construction, science labs, classrooms, and a multi-purpose gathering space. The building's streamlined exterior is inspired by the leading edge of a wing.

About the Jury

The 2014 CAE Educational Facility Design Awards jury consists of:

  • John R. Dale, FAIA (Chair), Harley Ellis Devereaux;
  • Claire Gallagher, Assoc. AIA, Georgian Court University, School of Education;
  • Fred Dust, IDEO;
  • Dutch MacDonald, AIA, MAYA Design; and
  • Marsha Maytum, FAIA, Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects.

Founded in 1857, the American Institute of Architects works to create more valuable, healthy, secure, and sustainable buildings, neighborhoods, and communities through nearly 300 state and local chapters.


Tagged categories: American Institute of Architects (AIA); Architecture; Awards and honors; Building design; Color + Design; Construction; Green design; Historic Structures; North America; Schools

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