Located on a site with a steep wooded hill, the design of the new Bennett Elementary School takes advantage of existing topography to integrate the building with its natural setting, creating a user experience that operates on a cozy, intimate level. The building is stepped up the slope, organized into three distinct terraces. This allows each floor to form the perception of a smaller scale, and creates tiered learning areas that connect classrooms to nature. Organizing the building this way allowed a large stand of trees on the site to be preserved, which was an important goal of the Bennett community. Walking trails through the forest were created to provide opportunities for exploration and discovery.
The inside of the building notably reflects the culture of the school, creating a comfortable, inspiring space that expresses the learning community’s values. Specialized classrooms for STEM, art, and music are grouped around spaces designed for shared activities and collaboration. This allows students to explore a diverse variety of subjects, and engage in self-directed learning. At the heart of the school, a large learning stair serves as a primary gathering space while providing a vertical connection between floors. The stairs can accommodate several classes for large meetings and presentations, or provide casual tiered seating for small groups and individuals.