VMDO Architects

VMDO Architects

Charlottesville, VA | Washington, DC


Bluestone Elementary School Named “Most Livable Building” in the U.S.

Jan 23, '20 6:58 PM EST

A 2019 Association for Learning Environments Project of Distinction, Harrisonburg City Public Schools’ Bluestone Elementary School has received the top Livable Buildings Award from UC Berkeley’s Center for the Built Environment (CBE). Now in its thirteenth year, the Livable Buildings Awards recognize projects that demonstrate high occupant satisfaction, excellent design, and innovative operation strategies. The CBE survey team worked with VMDO to develop a custom survey module related to the building’s promotion of happiness, health, and high performance, among other measurable elements. Results from the survey are outlined below.

The Happiest School in America | 80% of Building Users Say the Building Enhances Connections with Students

The design of Bluestone Elementary School was driven by several guiding principles: 1) serving a diverse student body with children from over 60 countries and speaking almost as many languages; 2) sensitivity to the local geography and ecology; and 3) creating a net-zero ready building that responds to global climate change concerns. The school emphasizes a variety of spaces and scales for differentiated learning opportunities while creating welcoming communal areas that embody the school’s commitment to learning in an inclusive environment. The award jury members commended the school for its attention to diversity and for its creative indoor and outdoor spaces that build community. Jurors described the school as an inspirational setting that is “laying the groundwork for the next generation of environmental warriors,” and noted that the design team “hit a home run on this one.”

Health as a Community Priority | 93% of Building Users Feel More Connected to Nature and the Outdoors

As part of its mission to foster community, Bluestone makes deep connections to its watershed, its ecosystem, and its history. These connections within the building are spatial – maximizing views to the outdoors within teaching spaces and aligning common areas with key sightlines to the surrounding Shenandoah Valley. They are experiential – allowing students to experience and study the effects of daylighting, rainfall, and changes in weather on the environment. Connections are intellectual, through environmental graphics and wayfinding explaining Harrisonburg’s unique natural setting and drawing parallels around the world; and pedagogical, through a place-based learning landscape.

High Performing Building and Learning Environment | 86% of Building Users Say the School is a Community Asset

The school’s three-story massing maximizes site area for play, outdoor learning, and community use. The compact form and high-performance building envelope are key to the school’s actual energy use intensity of 17 EUI, a 75% reduction from the national average. To deliver the best building performance possible, the building uses shading, roof overhangs, glass treatments, and careful placement of instructional spaces to mitigate less than ideal solar orientation. The building steps down towards the south to maximize the area available for roof-mounted photovoltaics. Boulders and trees harvested during construction are re-purposed in the landscape as natural play features and are paired with native grasses, trees, and wildflowers that support visible water conservation and stormwater management. An active landscape and wayfinding system celebrating Harrisonburg’s unique geography and ecology empower the diverse population of students to become stewards of this special place while feeling connected to the larger world around them.