Garrison elementary school

Washington, DC, NW

Completed 2018

4.5 acres

BELL Architects (architect)
Newman Architects (architect)
Wiles Mensch Corporation (civil engineer)

District of Columbia Public Schools

The Garrison Elementary School project, located in the heart of DC’s Shaw and Logan Circle neighborhoods, began as a community design effort wherein LAB collaborated directly with parents, neighbors and other local community groups to develop a site plan that would guide the future modernization of the school’s grounds.  These initial site studies became the basis for developing the 6.5 acre site into a multi-functional park space that serves both the school and the surrounding neighborhood. The resulting landscape is one which is sensitive to the site’s historic character, creates lively recreation and social spaces for a growing community, and provides a unique setting for youth to learn environmental education and stewardship.

As a site on which significant historic events have taken place, LAB worked with the community the larger design team to craft a site strategy the celebrates and commemorates the history of Camp Barker, one of many “contraband camps” that were constructed to house formerly enslaved persons, many of whom were eventually recruited as soldiers by the Union. The outdoor classroom is located where Abraham Lincoln is said to have attended services with former slaves. The historic character of the place is further revealed through a series of carefully-placed sculptures and entry portals that incorporate interpretive signage, all of which honor the site’s history and celebrate present and future youth.

The front façade of the school spans S Street and acts as the ‘front yard’ and most public edge of the site. A grand entry stair, sidewalk ‘pull-off’ zones, and a stabilized gravel nature path create a variety of spaces that engage public passerby and define the school’s identity. The nature path, punctuated by precast concrete benches, is designed to encourage students, teachers and community members to gather, interact with and observe both plant life and the life of the neighborhood. LAB’s design for the rear of the site reclaims the bulk of the former parking lot for use as active recreation space (soccer, baseball, track) and playground areas that support age-appropriate play for pre-K and K-5 age groups. At the center nestled between active program components, the outdoor classroom is visible from building’s cafeteria and multi-purpose room, creating an important connection between indoor and outdoor space. Defined by a grove of Linden trees, the outdoor classroom offers a practical, yet whimsical space in which teachers can formally instruct and children can playfully engage with environmental and historical site elements. LAB worked closely with DDOT to outfit this space with benches made from reclaimed street tree lumber.

LAB’s initial community design work was completed in 2012 as a pro-bono effort.  The full modernization project involved coordination among parent and teacher groups as well as with the typical DC regulatory agencies.

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Photographs: LAB; Renderings: LAB