•  The addition complements the existing campus with a series of indoor and outdoor learning spaces. Photo by Casey Dunn.

Location Birmingham, Alabama
Client Indian Springs School
Architect Lake|Flato Architects
Design Team Greg Papay, FAIA; Brandi Rickels, AIA; Ashley Hereen, AIA;
Heather Holdridge; Megan Toma
Photographer Casey Dunn

Lake|Flato Architects’ addition to the Indian Springs School near Birmingham, Alabama, is progressive and sensitive in its integration of architecture and site. Dramatically highlighting the beauty of the lake and surrounding wetlands at the heart of the school’s lush 350-acre grounds, the architects provide a new collection of flexible indoor and outdoor education spaces. Sophisticated synthesis of three new classroom buildings and an administration building with existing structures on the private school’s campus provides an idyllic learning environment. As an academic venue for 8th- through 12th-grade day and boarding school students, the architecture fuses interior with exterior, creatively integrating existing structures on campus with erudite additions.

Exterior and interior spaces are thoughtfully and equally considered. Outdoor circulation and breezeways used by students throughout the day replace the ubiquitous familiarity of enclosed school hallways. Brightly day-lit classroom interiors paired with smaller break-out and seminar rooms offer views to verdant rain gardens outside. Advanced technology and flexible furniture accommodate a variety of learning formats and subjects. Neutral interior color palettes maximize natural light from sculpted light monitors above the classrooms. On the lakeside, the new buildings surround a terraced green space: the McLean Lawn. Skillfully added to the main academic building, the covered Engel Terrace forms a backdrop for the commons. Completed in association with the Birmingham-based firm ArchitectureWorks, CARBO Landscape Architecture from Louisiana, and BL Harbert International for construction, the new buildings complete Phase One of a larger Indian Springs School master plan, also by Lake|Flato.

Lake|Flato’s Greg Papay, FAIA, says the project, which received a LEED Silver rating, uses 60 percent less energy than the building it replaced. He describes a desire for the architecture to connect students to the natural setting at all scales — from the project’s parti, which opens up physical and visual connection to the lake, to the use of local cypress and board-formed concrete, recalling the coloration of native stone. Lake|Flato’s Brandi Rickels says the large overhangs allowed for operable windows and natural ventilation as seasonally appropriate. She notes the importance of the choice of a steel structure, not only because it allows the longer spans desired by the design team, but also because of Birmingham’s historical connection to the steel industry.

The awards jury noted the project as a model school typology amplified by its connection to the Alabama landscape. Lake|Flato’s design generates a renewed vision for the campus, which was originally designed by the Olmstead Brothers. Arrayed perpendicularly to the lake, the new buildings replace a previous classroom building that ran parallel to the lake and blocked visual and physical access to the waterfront. Similar to the canoes resting perpendicular to the lakeshore, the new buildings are clearly connected to the lake with rain gardens and runnels redirecting rainfall back toward the water. The network of exterior walkways ensures that students are always connected to the land, experiencing seasonal weather and natural cycles of the native plants in the rain gardens and wetlands.

Despite its site specificity, the architecture of Indian Springs School offers a real paradigm shift for school design in the United States because of the way it connects students to the environment.

Rebecca O’Neal Dagg is an associate professor at the Auburn University School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape Architecture.

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