Learning stairs.
William Horne Learning stairs.

The Project: Hildreth Elementary School, Harvard, Mass.

The Client: Harvard Public Schools

Guiding principles for the project: Hildreth Elementary School is a new Pre-Kindergarten to Grade 5 school serving the historical community of Harvard, Mass. The building fulfills a 16-year effort by the community to replace its aging, deteriorated facility. The project goal was to create a healthy, innovative school to support 21st-century learning for future generations while also respecting the character and values of the historical rural community. Located at the center of town, the new building is an engaging place for learning that fosters students’ connections to the community. The school features 26 core and specialty classrooms, informal learning spaces, a gymnasium, a cafeteria, and a media center.

Designers: Arrowstreet is an award-winning, Boston-based architecture and design firm comprised of architects, interior designers, planners, and graphic designers who are astute observers and bring diverse perspectives to every venture. We harness our staff’s depth of knowledge and creative thinking to solve diverse building challenges across a wide range of sectors and building types. From multi-dimensional, urban mixed-use projects to multi-family housing, hospitality, retail, and schools, we are progressive, collaborative, and fresh in our approach.

At the heart of Arrowstreet’s practice is the ability to take complex projects and distill them into dynamic design and development opportunities. The firm’s projects reflect developing social patterns, business trends, and anticipated changes in the natural environment; our designers consider building resiliency, rising sea levels, and environmental sustainability.

Inside the Project

Learning space.
William Horne Learning space.

Encourage Engagement
In the design of the new building, Harvard Public Schools sought to build deeper socio-emotional learning, community connections, and equitable access to support student engagement and social development. Collaborating with Arrowstreet’s designers, the school administration wanted to create spaces that would spark delight, emphasize natural light and views to the exterior, and create customized learning spaces.

courtesy Arrowstreet

Site with Intention
The site is located near the historical village center to encourage student engagement. The building is oriented to preserve the natural environment of the town while providing optimum solar orientation. The school fronts onto a large, open green space that forms the heart of the community and is connected on axis with the historical town library across the main street, reinforcing the connection of learning to the community.

courtesy Arrowstreet

Create Connection
The town is connected by a series of historical pathways that link the town hall, the general store, and the town commons to the nearby high school, public library, and natural recreation areas. These pathways connect to the new school and are extended into the building to create an internal circulation pattern that joins classrooms and other learning spaces with community spaces.

William Horne

Celebrate History
Harvard is a community with a long agrarian history and strong vernacular architecture, including a former Shaker village. Arrowstreet’s analysis of the historical vernacular influenced the massing and materiality of the new school. The facade designs were inspired by the scale and hierarchy of the adjacent library, while the exterior brickwork and masonry mirrors the texture and scale of many historical buildings found throughout town.

William Horne
William Horne

Prioritize Wellness
Great care was taken to emphasize the role of biophilia and the health and wellness of the students, staff, and community. Classrooms and learning spaces were designed to be bright and airy with ample natural light, views through the building, and building systems to support health and well-being. We selected materials that have low volatile organic compounds and are certified to meet that criteria. This is important to improve indoor air quality. We also looked at the ingredients that go into products and utilized internationally recognized lists, such as the International Living Future Institute's Red List, to avoid chemicals that pose risks to human health. Some of the products that meet these criteria and were specified for Hildreth Elementary School include Forbo marmoleum flooring, Tarkett rubber flooring, Interface carpet, Sherwin-Williams zero-VOC paints, and Armstrong acoustic ceiling tile.

Breakout room.
William Horne Breakout room.

Foster Flexibility
Flexible learning spaces and breakout areas throughout the school are designed to accommodate individual or small group learning, allowing greater independence as students develop in older grade levels and enabling learning at all scales. The large learning stair at the center of the building permits informal gathering and social activities, bringing the school together both literally and metaphorically.

Media center/library.
William Horne Media center/library.
Media center/library.
William Horne Media center/library.

Establish a Culture of Learning
The school’s goal was to put the library/media center on display, establishing a culture of learning as soon as you enter the building. It is located at the center of the school—at the junction of the main circulation pathways that connect the classroom neighborhoods to the front entrance, the front office, the cafeteria, and the gymnasium—making the library the crossroads of the building. There is no wall separating the library/media center from the hallways, so the space is available to all students at all times.

The library/media center creates a warm and welcoming space for students’ first encounters with reading and information gathering. A large window brings in natural light and visually connects the library/media center to the historical town library, establishing a dialogue of lifelong learning. A variety of seating options enables students to read quietly or work together in small groups. Furniture was chosen to be flexible to allow the librarian to re-arrange spaces and materials to meet their needs during the school year.

Palette inspiration.
courtesy Arrowstreet Palette inspiration.
Paint colors and classroom graphics.
courtesy Arrowstreet Paint colors and classroom graphics.

Take Cues from Nature
The natural landscape and ecology of Harvard inspired the selection of interior materials, with the color palette drawing from native plants and animals. Accent colors identify the different grade levels in a rainbow sequence to create a sense of place and identity.

World map mural.
William Horne World map mural.
Harvard map mural.
William Horne Harvard map mural.
Map details.
courtesy Arrowstreet Map details.

Use Art as a Teaching Tool
Extending from the top of the learning stair, past the STEAM room, to the library/media center, a large mural serves as a teaching tool to help students understand and celebrate their physical location and connections to the broader world. Illustrations of local landmarks and native plants and animals lead through a passageway with depictions of Harvard’s historical apple orchards during all four seasons. As the leaves fall off the last tree, the mural transforms into a world map spanning two floors in the media center.

Class door icons.
William Horne Class door icons.

Have Fun with Wayfinding
Native plant and animal species featured in the mural were also used to identify classrooms and program spaces throughout the school. Captured in vinyl illustrations, species were paired with classrooms to align with each grade’s curriculum. The vinyl graphic applied to each room’s sidelight provides a tie to local nature and serves as wayfinding for early literacy students.

Art room.
William Horne Art room.

Optimize Interaction Between Spaces
The art room is designed to support STEAM education, with a balcony that overlooks the library and creates opportunities for interactive learning between the two spaces, such as parachute drops or other gravity experiments. This design connects the two rooms and extends learning throughout the core of the school with access to multiple resources.

William Horne

Perfect Pathways
The design of the corridor floor patterns mimics the concepts of pathways, with contrasting bands of color wrapping through the school. Intersection points between these pathway patterns are highlighted with playful accent colors, identifying moments of collaboration and engagement.

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