Cited in the 1973 P/A Awards program, Bellflower Elementary School in Mentor, Ohio, designed by Richard Fleischman & Associates, epitomizes the earth-sheltered buildings popular 40 years ago and newly relevant in our energy-conscious era. The school has a porcelain-steel-clad cap, with a slot of windows that visually separate it from a grassy berm rising from the flat site. Square in plan and set at a 45-degree angle to the road, Bellflower looks longer and lower than you would expect from a two-story building; the reduction in scale is appropriate for an elementary school surrounded by modest suburban houses.
The school’s interior also has an unexpected quality that foretells the more fluid and flexible learning environments of today. Organized like a small town with a skylit, two-story activity center just inside the glass entry doors, the school has two “streets” that cross at its center, with “learning centers” at its four corners that include stepped seating along the sloped inside of the berm. Its exposed steel-framed structure supports enclosed seminar, music, and speech rooms, as well as a teachers’ room and administrative offices on the mezzanine. The visually and spatially dynamic interior provides a varied and highly stimulating learning environment, serving as a model of how we might rethink schools in our digital age, with technology enabling both teachers and students to be more mobile.
P/A juror Donald L. Stull appreciated the school’s recognition that “a worthwhile educational experience is an evolving thing.” That is as true today as it was in 1973.