Nurturing the Whole Student

Marie Reed Community Learning Center

Marie Reed Community Learning Center

Washington, DC

Our renewal of this 1970s elementary school stays true to its founders’ vision for a holistic community resource. While the Brutalist building was outdated and considered for demolition, we saw its potential for transformation. We pierced the fortress-like façade with large windows, created a welcoming new entry, and reconfigured the interior as a series of classroom neighborhoods grouped around common spaces.

In addition to the elementary school program, the Center houses partner organizations, including health clinics, a daycare, and a city swimming pool. We increased the separation between school and public functions to enhance security while keeping valuable neighborhood resources on the premises. The revitalized Center celebrates education as a cornerstone of community wellbeing.

Nurturing the Whole Student
What we now have is this big, beautiful space that is enriching the community and enriching the learning experience.
A photo of large pool.

A History of Integration

Marie H. Reed was a strong proponent of school desegregation. In the 1960s, she helped develop a vision for a “community school” that would co-locate ongoing education and social services within primary schools. Her ideas influenced the first integrated school built in her neighborhood, which was named in her honor.

Photo of side hallway with kids walking.

The Open-Plan School

The Center was originally designed as an open-plan school, with no walls separating classrooms. While this model encouraged student camaraderie, noise was a persistent issue. We used transparent panels to create distinct classrooms while maintaining visual connections and a spirit of openness.

Photo of large open floor lobby from the second floor.

Transformative Design

Many Brutalist-style buildings like the Center have not aged well. With thick concrete walls and small windows, they are often unpleasantly dark inside. We used daylight and energy modeling to determine where we could insert windows and skylights while minimizing glare and solar heat gain.

Photo of bulding exterior with kids all around.
Photo of staircase leading up to the next floor.

Saving Embodied Energy

We will always recommend reusing a building rather than replacing it. To demolish the Center would have wasted all the energy and materials used to create it –and then used more energy and materials to build anew. As we like to say, the greenest building is one that is already built.

Sustainable Design

The Center is LEED Gold certified. Sustainable features include a smart ventilation system, LED lighting, recycled and low-VOC materials, low-flow water fixtures, and landscape bioretention areas. A dashboard in the lobby displays the building’s energy use, showing students their impact.

More Projects From Our Portfolio