The Knik community, ten miles from the nearest town, is one of the fastest growing areas in the nation. Set in a beautiful, boreal birch forest and drawing from the color and natural materials of its raw surroundings, Dena’ina Elementary creates a learning campus that accommodates the student population spike and provides an important community gathering center in this remote area.
Functionally, Dena’ina Elementary improved an existing school prototype. A series of intensive workshops with the school district, maintenance staff, and community produced a collection of renewed typologies resulting in a 21st Century learning environment. Guiding design goals included: simplifying exterior massing, zoning for community uses, maintaining a dynamic central gathering area, introducing natural light into all educational settings, establishing safe entry sequences, enhancing passive site observation, and creating a high-performance, energy-conscious school.
The school is organized into three primary zones: a classroom zone with southern exposure, a shared program zone bordering the northern edge, and a multi-use social gathering zone in between. Flexibility is built into every room – doing more with less space and making the space work harder. Common areas allow for customized learning and community gatherings.
Detailed elements are kid-friendly and offer extensive exploration of scale, natural light, color, and transparency. The simple primary color palette carries through from the playground equipment to the windows, carpet, furniture, collaborative learning nooks, and artwork. The colored glass and clerestory windows activate the interior, adding brightness and fun for students even during the dark winter days.