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Shenandoah Valley Discovery Museum

Reader & Swartz Architects, P.C.

Project Name

Shenandoah Valley Discovery Museum

Project Status



  • Other: Howard Shockey and Sons
  • Mechanical Engineer: Comfort Design Inc
  • Structural Engineer: Painter-Lewis P.L.C

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Project Description


This was a plain, utilitarian, three story brick building. It was originally constructed for the Schewels Furniture Company, in the late 1940’s, in Winchester’s historic downtown. It was used as a furniture store for about 60 years. More recently, it was used as a church on the ground level, and professional offices on the second and third floors. The goal of this adaptive reuse project was to transform the building into a children’s museum for a local non-profit group with limited funds.

The design involved gutting the building, in order to create open, flexible spaces for hands-on exhibits and learning stations. An existing fire stair and an elevator at the rear of the building were retained, modified, and extended up to the new roof level; another, new, central fire stair was also inserted. The front façade was reworked, with aluminum storefront windows, and a new glass garage door set into a steel framework. The garage door opens to accommodate the delivery of exhibits, since there was no loading dock space available; it also accommodates large groups of visitors. The building systems were treated in a matter-of-fact way: existing steel trusses were exposed, wood decking was uncovered, fluorescent lighting fixtures were reused, and new, colorful duct socks were installed (with different colors denoting different floor levels). A community art project, consisting of painted plywood panels, enlivens the two long, linear sides of the building. The roof level guardrail is a graphic grid of different perforated steel patterns.

The largest design intervention on the building was the installation of the roof terrace / sky level space. This area is animated with new roof pavilions, which house the elevator, fire stairs, a stage / shade pavilion, a small lobby, and a staff office. Sculptural sun shades stretch across the roofscape. The roof level is used for gardening exhibits and educational programs. It is also a revenue generator for the Museum, which rents it out for after-hours events. The roof terrace level allows great views of the historic downtown and the Blue Ridge Mountains beyond.
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