Browns Point Elementary School / TCF Architecture
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Text description provided by the architects. The Browns Point neighborhood is a place where the birth of modern Tacoma was seen across the waters of Beginning Bay. Here, the family roots run deep; many locals return to raise their children in the same small-town environment in which they were raised. At the foot of the cliff, Browns Point Lighthouse serves as an unofficial symbol of the riverside community. Rich cultural and educational opportunities are held in high regard and athletics play an important role in community life.
In designing Browns Point Elementary School, the school district client was looking for a versatile, forward-looking facility, calling for – among other criteria – design to enhance personalized student learning; facilitate professional collaboration between staff; and encourage compatible use by organizations to 1. supplement learning and strengthen social connections within schools, and 2. promote public use of buildings outside of school hours.
To become familiar with the parameters, a community asset mapping process revealed residents’ reliance on the building and site for organized sports and neighborhood gatherings. When asked, parents and teachers expressed pride in high student participation in the arts programs, and children asked for a school with bright colors, big movements, and a sense of “wow !” The neighbors were hoping for a sober and sophisticated solution to complete the context of the single-family homes.
The school’s 10+ acre parcel was adjacent to an additional 8 acres containing public ball diamonds and a walking path owned and operated by the Parks District. The popular use of these amenities guided the design team’s decision to place the gymnasium front and center. A large canopy that houses outdoor activities at the front of the gymnasium introduces a linear series of public spaces that open onto each other and provide visual transparency through the building and site.
Based on a clear organizational hierarchy system, the floor plan overlaps public/private and indoor/outdoor learning environments to achieve a sense of space in an efficient design. The dual purpose function arises from merging the circulation space with the program space which serves as a multifunctional area. A compact two-story floor plan minimizes “in-between” areas to enhance connectivity and privacy between learning quarters.
The design team looked for every opportunity to use the “extra” space to trigger a teachable moment. Students are offered nooks, alcoves, and risers as places to stretch, lie down, or curl up. The diversity of spaces supports many additional programs and inspires project-based work, visual art presentation, performance opportunity, and engagement with the neighborhood.
Materials have been selected and detailed to facilitate maintenance and improve longevity. The building envelope and plan maximizes transparency, bringing sunlight deep inside and providing views from nearly every occupancy space. A neutral, natural palette of wood, cork, gypsum and linoleum is punctuated with bright colors, representative of sailboats and weathered cargo containers – ships that regularly occupy the bay. Today, much like the revered lighthouse, a soft glow emanates from the school’s tall skylight to signal history, familiarity and welcome.