Atrium School Teaches Valuable Lessons

The Atrium School is a project where the design of the landscape maximizes the infiltration of storm water in order to create a stimulating learning environment for students. Located in Watertown, MA the 120-student K6 school, emphasizes environmental awareness, social development, and dialogue across age groups in addition to academic and cognitive growth.  Prior to the strategic intervention, the site was 85% impervious surface. Now the site strategy manages all the rainfall in the premises, allowing water to infiltrate into the local water table…

Through the design of the school children learn two valuable lessons: 1.that through adaptive reuse, the new building concretely merges past and present; and 2. that through stormwater management– i.e. retention and infiltration– the storm water slowly replenishes aquifers and keeps potentially polluted storm water from reaching the local River, thus increasing local wildlife habitat. Now the grounds of the school act as an open classroom where children can learn the value of re-using and recycling resources.

In an article featured in designshare, educators point out that: “The fact that this on-site rainwater management was both important and invisible lead to an important design concept and feature. The school was anxious to be able to use the site and building to illustrate and experiment with the local water cycle, so the design team included a waterfall and water collection system for one part of the building roof. This fun feature allows the kids and teachers to both observe the effect of rain on the site and to use this water for experimentation, in conjunction with similar work at the nearby local River.” (designshare). The schoolchildren now enjoy a landscape of undulating landforms designed by Michael Blier and his landscape firm Landworks Studio. These mounds help conceal basins that retain stormwater to reduce site runoff by decreasing the impervious area and the rest of the natural areas reinstituted grass, trees, and additional natural drainage on site.

Maryann Thompson, the architect of the project, calls the Atrium School a personal turning point: “Atrium showed me that you could make an adaptive-reuse project beautiful and emotionally interesting,” she says. “Now I think of adaptive reuse as almost a holy thing. It is the most profound form of recycling.” The south-facing multipurpose space exemplifies Thompson’s diverse sustainability strategy. In addition to using daylighting and natural ventilation, the building has concrete floors that provide excellent thermal mass; perimeter casework that was fabricated from recycled wheatboard; and a dramatic garage door that emphasizes students’ connections to the outdoors. (eco-structure)

This project received the National 2010 Evergreen Award for Commercial Redevelopment from Eco-STRUCTURE magazine; a IDID Excellence in Sustainable Design Award, from the American Institute of Architects New Hampshire in 2008; an Honor Award for Design Excellence, Boston Society of Architects in 2008 and a Design Share 2008 Merit Award.

Text Excerpt Credits: David Sokol,  eco-structure |

Architect: Maryann Thompson Architects, & Landscape architect: Landworks Studio, Michael Blier |

Image Credits:  Maryann Thompson Architects,  & Landscape architect: Landworks Studio, Michael Blier | Via eco-structure and

Additional Project Credits HERE

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