Bowie Gridley’s design of the new Peterson Middle School at Flint Hill School (FHS), a progressive independent school with 1,000 students located in Northern Virginia, embodies innovation, flexibility, and both the social/emotional and physical wellness needs of middle school students. With its spaces for creativity and experimentation and its incorporation of technology, it meets the school’s cutting-edge educational pedagogy with 21st century design and addresses the need for flexibility in a post-COVID world.
Inspiration & Innovation: The guiding design precept was creating a space for inspiration. The new building is designed around the central concept of innovation — making and creating things and ideas, enabling students to expand their minds. To achieve this goal, all spaces are transparent across disciplines, allowing for cross-curricular projects and collaboration. Areas for large and small groups to gather throughout the building as well as outside provide an inspiring place for learning and support a curriculum that emphasizes innovation and critical thinking. The large Innovation Center, for instance, provides areas for exploring and making, allowing for questioning and exploration.
Flexibility: From adaptable furniture solutions to utilizing corridors for teaching and incorporating smart technology, the new building provides flexibility that proved crucial in confronting the challenges of the pandemic and positions the school to pivot and evolve with the future. The old building’s solid masonry walls offered no flexibility and no way to add technology in a seamless way. The new building is an open, flexible learning environment, designed with the future in mind: classrooms, labs, and project areas open onto each other and can expand or contract depending on the learning that is happening at that moment.
Adolescent-Centered Design: The new school was designed with the well-being of the adolescent in mind. With specific and special attention paid to these crucial years of exploration and self-discovery, the design offers broad and deep learning opportunities that both challenge and support students. In their previous space, the FHS middle school’s progressive curriculum was fighting against its old-style built environment — one built around teacher-centered learning. The new design focuses on how adolescent students learn best: it supports a diversity of learning styles by providing many modes of learning-from small and quiet study spaces to large project areas that encourage collaboration. It’s a student-centered educational space, one that responds to and enables a curriculum specifically designed to help middle schoolers develop and apply skills and knowledge to better reach their potential in life.
Wellness: The new building includes dedicated outdoor air systems, providing fresh air in occupied spaces; Maker Lab equipment with dedicated exhaust to remove heat, dust, and fumes; and daylighting in all rooms and connection to nature throughout (95% of the occupied floor area has direct views outside to parkland and the campus). While a part of forward-looking best practices, these design elements also allowed the school to remain open in a COVID-19 world. The spaces and furniture allowed for social distancing. The HVAC system met CDC requirements, including fresh air changes, and Merv-13 filters. On-grade access to the terrace and adjacent fields helped the school make the most of outdoor areas.
With its new innovative and flexible design features, from the exposed structure to transparency, flexibility, technology, and wellness features throughout, Peterson Middle School underscores the progressive, cutting-edge educational philosophies and practices Flint Hill is known for. It helps position the school as agile, forward-looking, and a leader among its peers, ready to meet the needs of students today and in the future.