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The Heights Building

BIG-Bjarke Ingels Group

Arlington, VA, United States

September 2019


BIG-Bjarke Ingels Group


Design Architect: BIG - Bjarke Ingels Group Architect of Record: Leo A Daly Engineer - Civil: Gordon Enginners Engineer - MEP: Interface Engineering Engineer - Structural: Silman Engineering Lighting Consultant: Tillotson Design Consultants Theater Consultant: Theatre Projects Acoustical Consultant: Jaffe Holden Sustainability Consultant: Sustainable Design Consulting Vertical Transportation Consultant: Lerch Bates Historic Preservation Consultant: EHT Traceries A/V Consultant: The Sextant Group Environmental Consultant: Haley Aldrich Food Service Consultant: Hopkins Food SDervice Water Consultant: GHD Cost Estimating: Faithful & Gould Landscape Architect: Geoconcepts General Contractor: Gilbane Construction


Arlington Public Schools (APS) - H-B Woodlawn


Laurian Ghinitoiu


Like many schools in the Northern Virginia region, overcrowding played a role. In 2014, county officials approved the decision to move the co-located programs to Arlington in the rapidly growing county. The building also had to take into consideration accessibility for students enrolled in the Shriver Program. These programs were located in the building for ease of access, mobility, increased or decreased stimulation and their overall daily curriculum in the school. This resulted in the program needing to be located on the first floor, as well as providing two levels that are accessible from the grade level, and two separate sets of elevators. The building also required spaces to provide students an occupational and physical therapy suite and a sensory cottage designed to aid in sensory processing.
BIG and Leo A Daly’s design scheme was to create a visually striking but functional and supportive environment – where the architecture and design could enhance the curriculum. Similarly, in keeping the surrounding neighborhood and former Wilson School in mind, BIG’s goal was for the building’s material palette to pay homage to the historical architecture of Old Town Alexandria.


BIG and Leo A Daly were commissioned in 2014 and worked closely with Arlington Public Schools (APS), WRAP (West Rosslyn Area Plan) and the Arlington community to design state-of-the-art educational facilities that support both H-B Woodlawn’s visual and performing arts-focused curricula and Shriver’s extensive resources for students with specialized educational needs.
Located along Arlington’s Rosslyn-Ballston corridor, The Heights merges two existing secondary schools – the H-B Woodlawn Program and the Eunice Kennedy Shriver Program – into a new 180,000sf building to accommodate an expected enrollment of up to 775 students.

Situated within a compact urban site bounded by roads on three sides and a portion of Rosslyn Highlands Park, The Heights is conceived as a stack of five rectangular floorplates that rotate around a fixed pivot point, maintaining the community feeling and spatial efficiencies of a one-story school. Green terraces above each floor become an extension of the classroom, creating an indoor-outdoor learning landscape for both students and teachers — an educational oasis rather than a traditional school setting. A rotating central staircase cuts through the interior of the building to connect the four-tiered terraces, allowing students to circulate outside and forge a stronger bond between the neighborhood and the school. While the upper terraces are more suitable for intimate classes and quiet study areas, the spacious first terrace and 18,700sf recreation field also serve as public event venues for school-wide and neighborhood activities.


The 180,000-sf campus is defined by an eye-catching building, featuring a ‘fanning’ with five rectangular levels angled at different points around a center axis. Aptly called the Heights School for its verticality, sense of openness, and permeability, it embraces the neighborhood, the outdoors, and a variety of programs. Most important, it acts as a canvas for the expression of life of children.
The Heights’ exterior is materialized in a graceful white glazed brick to unify the five volumes and highlight the oblique angles of the fanning classroom bars, allowing the sculptural form, the energy and the activity of the inside to take center stage. The design gives back more natural green space with the cascading terraces then were there prior to this school being built.
With a capacity of 775 students, The Heights features green terraces above each floor to create indoor-outdoor learning spaces, an angled central staircase that connects all five levels, and an 18,700-square-foot recreation field for public events and school activities. The scheme consists of five rectilinear bars of double-loaded classrooms, four of which fan out acrobatically from the northeast corner above an elongated base that houses classrooms a well as such common spaces as the lobby and cafeteria, plus the administrative offices. There’s also an art studio, science and robotic labs, music rehearsal rooms and two performing arts theaters. Interior features include different-colored walls for each floor, dividing the building by color. Easy accessibility to the community-oriented programs creates a welcoming environment while heightening the visual connectivity between the shared spaces.

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