Benjamin W. Murch Elementary
"The best classroom and richest classroom is roofed only by the sky."
- Margaret McMillan (C 1925)
A child's learning environment should foster creativity and healthy development including physical, social, emotional and cognitive skills. Outdoor classrooms can help children thrive by learning through movement and play while connecting with nature.
When the renovation and expansion of Benjamin W. Murch Elementary School in Washington, DC was designed, local firm Jordan Honeyman Landscape Architecture thought both outside the box as well as the classroom to create a 21st century outdoor learning environment that complements and unites the new classroom and gym addition to the existing 1930's historic building. The school's requirements for balancing outdoor curricula for the students and community while maximizing limited recreation space resulted in a complete redesign of the entire site. The elementary school, with a student population consisting of pre-kindergarten through 5th grade, is located on a 4.5-acre property in northwest Washington. Its adjacency to Rock Creek Park, the natural green spine that runs through the city, became the inspiration for the ecological context within which the new schoolyard was designed.
The main design challenge for JHLA was to reconfigure the reduced outdoor activity space covered by the new addition while providing educational opportunities for environmental learning. The project had a very vocal community presence as well as an involved and dedicated faculty with much interest in the project from DC Public Schools. Murch ES was accustomed to a large outdoor activity area for recess and after school activities, with a ball field and dynamic playgrounds including seating and shade. The play yard was also heavily used by the community in the evenings and on weekends. The space was constantly packed with kids and their families, playing soccer or enjoying the climbing structures while parents gathered in groups in the shade to catch up. Once word got out that their beloved "bluetop", which was the nickname for the painted blue asphalt play surfacing, was being greatly decreased by a new addition to the existing school building, the community was activated to make sure every square foot of available outside space was optimized. This mandate was in addition to the school faculty's requirement for increasing outdoor curricula using sustainable elements to create opportunities for environmental learning. Jordan Honeyman used their baseline design principles of practical solutions through sustainable methods to accommodate these school and community requirements, physically and visually unite the new addition and time-honored, historic building and create seamless transitions between indoor and outdoor learning areas.
As seen in LASN magazine, June 2020.