The Atrium School

The Atrium School is a progressive independent school serving 120 children from 5-12 years of age (grades K-6) in Watertown, Massachusetts. For its new home the project called for the adaptive re-use of a 70-year-old warehouse structure on a limited site in a densely populated residential area. Because the parcel is long and narrow, it presented specific challenges to the arrangement of parking areas and green space, as well as and the movement of pedestrian and vehicular traffic through the site. By rethinking the building’s orientation on the site, the school’s entrance and vehicular access was moved to the back of the building, creating an alternate entry sequence, whereby the children approach the school through a landscape garden rather than a highly trafficked street. Cars are routed in a one-way pattern through the site to minimize the school’s intrusion in the community and to reduce delays during drop-off and pick-up. Conversion of the warehouse to a school required that the site be re-zoned from commercial to educational use. The process involved obtaining approval from planning and zoning boards, as well as a period of community input. This project was completed within a restrictive design and construction time frame of under 10 months.

The new primary entrance through the landscape moves children onto a generous accessible covered ramp that brings them to the second floor of the school and provides a dramatic sense of discovery upon entry to the light-filled atrium. The previous dark, enclosed warehouse space was opened through extensive glazing that introduces ample daylighting and cross-ventilation. The two ends of the building are programmatically anchored by a new library and a multi-purpose atrium connected by an unfolding spatial sequence that creates a series of intimate break-out spaces along the central corridor, each populated with lockers and benches made from recycled wheatboard. Each of the eight classrooms are individually scaled and all make use of views and natural light, including skylights that are all painted slightly different colors, giving a unique hue to the light in each space.

Services provided included visioning, site study, programming, planning, concept design, schematic design, construction documentation and construction administration.

Watertown, Massachusetts

Architect of Record:
Maryann Thompson Architects (MTA)

Evan’s Role:
Assistant Project Manager at MTA

Date completed: 

25,000 sq ft

2007 Boston Society of Architects Honor Award for Design Excellence for K-12 Facilities

2008 Boston Society of Architects Honor Award for Design Excellence

2008 AIA New Hampshire, IDID Excellence in Sustainable Design

2008 DesignShare, Innovative School Design Merit Award

2009 Special Citation, American School & University Magazine

2010 Ecommercial Eco-Structure Award, Hanley Wood Evergreen Awards

Anton Grassl, Esto