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BIG, Arlington, The Heights

A Cascade of Terraces: The Heights by BIG

The community of Arlington lies just a few miles from Washington, D.C. The Heights school complex stands in a dense urban context, right beside Rosslyn Highlands Park. The green space continues onto the site of the school, first as the lawn on the sports field and then as stepped rooftop gardens. This greenery is a ubiquitous feature of the overall concept.

The architects from BIG came up with the unusual design language of the structure by viewing the school’s different levels as slices that fan out around a shared rotation point. To enhance the sculptural effect, the façade consists of white-glazed brick that melds the individual plates into a comprehensive form. However, the visual focus does not lie on the building itself, but rather on what happens on and inside it.

Each level comprises an interior and an exterior area. In between, an elemented glass façade provides openness and views to the outdoors. The borders remain fluid, for the rooftop gardens are also a component of the didactic concept.

A spiral stairway joins the individual levels and enables students and teachers to circulate throughout the school. The higher the level, the more tranquil and undisturbed the atmosphere; the upper levels offer space for concentrated study and quiet relaxation, while the lower areas are devoted to interactive, playful work. Each of the corridors adjacent to the stairs has its own colour scheme, which gives a cheerful, welcoming feel to these access areas, which are not lit by daylight.

The lobby functions as a venue for community events; it was conceived as a central meeting point. Seating steps have a variety of uses: a place to hang out during breaks, an auditorium for assemblies and a playground for diverse other activities.

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