The Little School with a Big Heart
In its new location, Wellsprings Friends School will be much more visible to the wider community. With a strong façade, anchored by an expressively articulated corner which houses the administrative offices, the building will serve as a neighborhood beacon of the school’s educational and environmental values. The design of the building and artful signage will boldly announce its presence to passers-by and visitors. Large office windows are the eyes to the street and convey transparency and openness to the neighboring community. Exterior finish materials combine traditional lap siding, the clean lines of metal panels, and the earthy beauty of reclaimed barn wood siding, arranged in a lively, dynamic, and colorful composition. Structure is expressed in the pattern of exposed wood beams, rafters, and steel pipe columns that support wide roof overhangs and sheltering canopies. A buffer of vegetation against the building’s north wall softens the margin of transition between campus and the street in a neighborly gesture. Whether arriving by bus, car, bicycle, or foot, everyone enters the school through a courtyard dominated by the stately cedar tree. This is a lively place, with spaces to congregate, sit, talk, and watch people coming and going. Stone blocks and columns offer seating and serve as informal bollards to protect people and the building from vehicles. A welcoming covered entry offers shelter from sun and rain. Covered bicycle parking extends along the side of the building directly outside the large windows of the school offices.
Entry & Lounge
At the heart of the school are homey living spaces and a community gathering area. Arriving at the entry, one is greeted by a student lounge. Cozy and comfortable, the carpeted area is furnished with couches and bean bags. It is a space where people gather, people-watch, or simply pause before entering the community space, offices, library, classrooms or kitchen – all of which radiate from this central spot. The large open space is supported by a sculptural column decorated with ceramic tiles made by students and teachers with a bench surrounding its base. This is one of the many places creative expression finds an outlet in this school. Recycled rubber flooring in the majority of the entry foyer accepts the inevitable presence of water and dirt at the entries. Shelves and cubbies to the left of the front door accommodate shoes, coats, skateboards and anything else that needs to be unloaded upon arrival.
Large curved gliding doors open to invite us into the circular community space. At the core of the school, this room’s cylindrical form supports the values of equality, simplicity and community. The round space is non-hierarchical in nature and form, and allows for flexibility of use and arrangement of furnishings, be it for morning circle, a performance, or yoga classes. It also serves as a hinge around which a variety of spaces and activities revolve: from the more public and vehicular entry courtyard, to the entry space, the lounge and kitchen, and to the more private central courtyard, and its adjacent lawn and amphitheater-shaped berm. Oversized windows are oriented to frame the great heritage oak tree perfectly. The walls of the cylinder are perforated by narrow vertical glazing slots of seemingly random widths and heights that allow daylight to slip in from all sides to a most beautiful effect all day long. Double doors on the southeast open the community space to the courtyard and lawn outside. From the outside, the cylindrical form allows the campus environment to the south to link smoothly with the interior courtyard, encouraging people and activities to move around it freely and easily. The exterior walls of the cylinder-shaped building are clad with reclaimed barn wood planks, beautifully and naturally weathered, interrupted here and there by the glazed slot windows. Above and below each of these windows, a recessed stainless steel channels that extend to from the window sills to the ground and from the window head to the roof edge above. Each channel is finished with a mosaic composed of hundreds of colorful glazed tiles created by the school's students and staff.
Courtyard & Rain Garden
The courtyard is a flexible space for outdoor performances, social events, informal gatherings, classes, graduation, and barbecues. Sloped lawn forms an amphitheater on the southern edge of the space. At the center of the courtyard is a “Wellspring” water feature, edged with stones to sit on. The water both animates and calms this lively social space. As it runs along a small stream, it disappears under the paving of the courtyard and, while in fact recirculating, it seems to reappear beyond the courtyard in the form of a dry stream bed and seasonal rain garden. The rain garden collects water from the roofs of the school as it cascades out of an extended downspout. The run-off flows though a vegetated stream bed to be absorbed by the soil, remaining on site as long as possible before overflowing into the stormwater system. This rain garden provides a valuable ecological function by recharging ground water, filtering run-off, and improving water quality– thus protecting rivers and streams while being a beautiful part of the Wellsprings landscape. The lawn and gentle amphitheater are cradled by the main school building to the north and by the modular classrooms to the south. Two existing Black Oak trees and a Mimosa tree remain in the clearing. Beyond the amphitheater and modular classrooms is a half-court basketball court and open lawns for outdoor play.
The administration offices and the teachers’ lounge are located along the street side of the building; perforated by large north and west-facing windows, they allow for direct and easy observation of the street and Entry. In the teachers’ lounge, work tables, computers, printers, supplies, mailboxes, and even a washer and dryer create a functional, supportive, and productive work environment. However, all is not sacrificed for work: the offices and lounge are full of natural daylight, and are airy and comfortable. In the office area, conveniently nestled between the school head’s office and the school manager’s office, a large conference room provides enough space to accommodate groups of up to approximately 14 people, yet is perfectly located for quick access and more private meetings the community space. It is outfitted with a projector, a white board, and plenty of storage space. Informal seating in the hall forms a waiting area. At the nexus where the teachers’ lounge curves around the library, a large column decorated by Wellsprings' student artists acts as a hinge as the hall turns to join the classrooms.
Library & Pastor's Office
A library is the repository of accumulated knowledge, filled with resources allowing for the expansion of Wellsprings’ students understanding of the world. However, today a library is no longer only about paper manuscripts, but about all forms of information, whether it is hard-copy or digital. Recognizing this, we included in the library not only stacks for books, but also computer research stations and tables for group work. This space may also serve as an additional conference room or a quiet retreat from the lively hubbub outside its walls. Just to the south of the library is the pastor’s office. It has easy access to the community space, entry, lounge, and kitchen, and is large and comfortable, equipped with ample storage.
The kitchen allows for many flexible uses and is centrally located in the heart of the school. Counters and cabinets on casters move aside to open the kitchen to the entry for occasions when classes are larger than the space can accommodate, if serving style needs to be adjusted, or if snacks are being offered when the Kitchen space is closed. A pantry and storage space for tables, chairs and other temporary furnishings is easily accessible for frequent use or conversion of the space.
The classrooms at Wellsprings are comfortable, filled with natural light, and have both flexible work space and cozy nooks. Windows between each classroom and the hall promote an open community. Each classroom has its own identity, and none feature rows of student desks facing the whiteboard. Instead, each is outfitted with a different array of non-hierarchical tables, chairs, and couches. These classrooms are intended to facilitate discussion and collaborative learning, to encourage interaction, and to create a setting where warmth and closeness can develop between peers and between students and teachers. The art classroom includes a darkroom, and the science lab features a laboratory work bench and equipment. While there is no carpet in the art and science rooms where learning often leads to spills and stains, carpet in all other classrooms, the lounge, hallways and library absorbs the sounds of the lively school.
Having recently purchased the property that Wellsprings Friends School has historically rented from the Mennonite Church, the school has the opportunity to design and build an environment that supports its specific needs more appropriately than was previously possible. Located on West 18th Avenue, over half of the long and narrow lot is a seasonal wetland. While this area is largely unbuildable, it does provide an opportunity for outdoor learning activities. Two majestic existing trees – a heritage Oregon White Oak and a mature Cedar of Lebanon – tower over the current building. While placing limitations on the buildable area of the new project, preservation of these two trees shaped the final school plan decisively, and added invaluable qualities of beauty, shade, clean air, and wildlife habitat to the new design.
Architect: Jan Fillinger - STUDIO-E Architecture
Renderings: Rachel Simrell Scott - Emerald Seven