The modernization of the Marie Reed Community Learning Center in Washington, DC, transformed an aging Brutalist structure into a vibrant, flexible setting for primary education.

The center reflects the community’s vision for a facility that would celebrate diversity and culture while inspiring new generations of global citizens.


  • Phased modernization of an urban public school with integrated recreation and community services
  • Creation of high-performance educational environments
  • Design-build, fast-track delivery
  • 153,584-sf educational facility with 25 classrooms
  • Targeting LEED Gold

Creating Community

Designed in the 1970s as an inwardly focused, open concept school, the Marie Reed Community Learning Center was an outdated facility that lacked appealing, flexible spaces for a variety of instructional programs and gatherings. Poor acoustics and scant natural light throughout the building also hampered instruction, as well as a deficient technology infrastructure. Every space within the building was redesigned to engender a strong sense of community, with a mix of enclosed classrooms and open commons spaces. The design draws upon a neighborhood vernacular, with a large, multipurpose “town hall,” intimate “community corners,” and an internal “main street” to welcome students with a friendly, easy-to-navigate environment for instruction; large and small gatherings; and self-directed exploration, play, and study.

Transforming the Exterior

Set in the heart of the city’s multi-cultural Adams Morgan neighborhood, the Marie Reed Learning Center also houses several community partners, with public health clinics, a childcare center, and a community swimming pool among the program elements. The exterior of the imposing structure was peeled away to create a more transparent, welcoming presence along the street. A new plaza along this western edge promotes gathering and interaction, and features colorful new playground equipment, a permeable play surface, new bench seating, gardens, and a sculpture garden.