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The idea that John Rex Elementary School will use the city as a classroom became our primary conceptual driver. Thinking of the school as a microcosm of Oklahoma City led us to the idea of collaborative learning spaces. These collaborative spaces can exist at many levels and in many binary relations; city/school, school/courtyard, courtyard/cafeteria, school/base camp, base camp/classroom, classroom/breakout space. In this way we can accommodate learning in spaces large enough to accommodate the community and the entire student body and small enough for one-on-one personal conversations. We can also accommodate activities inside, outside and, in some cases, both inside and outside. This diversity of space allows for multiple opportunities and solidifies our conceptual plan for education in OKC. In initiating a dialog with Oklahoma City, we felt that there was the possibility of a reciprocal relationship; we could invite the city into the schoolyard. This, of course, had to be handled in such a way as to insure the integrity of the schoolyard and the safety of our children. Through visually accessible vistas and carefully controlled access, we have allowed for both an individual identity for John Rex Elementary and a space of community interaction. All of our critical classroom spaces are removed from the immediacy of grade. Pre-K through second grade students are tucked in slightly below grade with full access to the courtyard while third through sixth grades soar above the central courtyard. This idea of sheltering and soaring seemed an appropriate way to think of our students—the youngest are sheltered and the older children are given the freedom to soar ever upward. Sinking the gymnasium and cafeteria below grade provide several significant advantages while still providing indoor/outdoor interactions. Being predominantly below grade, we were able to employ both the cafeteria and the gym as dual safe rooms large enough to comfortably accommodate the entire student body and to provide emergency access to the broader community. The roof structure necessary for a safe room allows us to include an edible schoolyard that allows a pedagogy devoted to environmental stewardship—a green roof, the slow food movement, farm to table processes, and community engagement. Additionally, the green roof and the earth-sheltered walls allow for a level of insulation that should make conditioning such large spaces economically feasible. In raising the classrooms associated with the upper grades, we were able to provide controlled views and access both into and out of the central courtyard. This raising of space above grade allows for the expression of structure and systems which can be used as a teaching/learning tool for both students and the larger community. It forefronts the idea of architecture as a means of understanding the physical world and allows the children to have positive and unsupervised interactions with the building. Additionally, these sheltered areas contribute to the space of the central courtyard and allow for outdoor activities in a variety of weather conditions. They are shady and cool when it is hot, dry when it is rainy, and can be manipulated to accommodate activities in the winter.

John Rex

Elementary

School


16 Hour School Design Competition