Duluth Middle School

What is middle school? It is a known fact that traditional schools are killing students’ creativity. While creativity is the major driving force for curiosity. If a student is in control of their learning then they can pursue the ends of their curiosity. Project-based learning has been proven to produce happier students and more creative individuals. However, how does architecture produce a space that is as adaptable and unique as a human mind? There must be spaces that allow any student to find their place. To have a sense of ownership of their learning. The spaces must be morph-able to accommodate unpredictable predicaments.

Design Challenge

The spaces must be rewarding to explore, to provoke excitement and spark even the dullest of imaginations. The heart of the Duluth Middle School is the auditorium. Surrounding this core is a library. The library has special access to auditorium seats and booths that act as a sound buffer between the two zones. This allows a programmatic region of the building for most of the school’s extracurricular activities. Masses are extruded from the central core to form the private and public realm of the site. The gymnasium and administration form the drop-off and parking zones. Leaving the entire rear of the core to be allocated for classrooms. To provide adequate circulation throughout the building a large swoop connects the entrance to the second floor. To provide views and lighting to the classrooms the hallway masses are staggered. The second-floor classrooms slide off the grid to shade the lower. While the backside of the second floor has porches with a skylight to allow deep daylight penetration. These porches give outdoor gathering spaces to students while providing sunlight to the first floor. The shading system is an alternating layer of translucent and solar panels system. This will allow some energy generation while providing ambient lighting to the interior spaces. This shaft also facilitates a convection air loop to help cool the building.

Physical Context

The site is in between a suburb and a commercial zone off a major highway. The site is on a forty-foot bluff, rising above the land around like a castle. Utilizing a previously developed site to reduce the impact of new construction. The main focus for Duluth Middle is to be seen from the major road and to push the classrooms deeper into the forest thicket. This is programmatically safer for the students while enhancing the sense of environment and adventure. The lower set of classrooms have an immediate view and proximity to the pine trees of the site. This level change also takes advantage of the steep topographical changes while making the users inside aware. This humbles the building and frames a symbiotic relationship between natural and built.