William B. Powell Elementary School

Outside the Box

“In the 21st-century, learning happens in many places, not just sitting at a desk in a classroom facing front,” says architect Rick Schneider of ISTUDIO, who spearheaded the recent renovation of William B. Powell Elementary School in DC’s Petworth neighborhood. His design plan embraces this philosophy, providing a healthy and inspirational learning environment within a sustainable building envelope. “We were aiming for something new and vibrant that represented the goals for the school,” Schneider notes.

Built in 1929, the structure is now a seamless conglomeration of neoclassical, mid-century (by way of a 1959 addition) and modern styles. The 90,000-square-foot renovation and addition encompasses wide, airy hallways, classrooms that connect to the outdoors via glass façades and bay windows that offer break-out spaces for small groups. A two-story atrium opens onto the rear wing (pictured left), which houses the cafeteria and the library above it; perforated-steel screens and vertical aluminum fins control solar gain and glare.

A green roof and a rooftop garden both beckon students outside. “We looked for ways for students to connect with the outdoors physically and visually,” Schneider observes. “Those are learning opportunities. We wanted them to break out of the box and into larger, sunlit spaces.”