2019—Mae Smythe Elementary School

Pasadena ISD—Mae Smythe Elementary School
Architect: GPD Group

New elementary school designed to replace existing aging elementary school of the same name.


The library is the focal point of the campus, is visible to students and visitors as they arrive, and is the shared common space for the classroom wings. Natural light floods the space from a clerestory on the north wall, making it a desirable destination for individual learners, class groups, small story time sessions, and makerspace users. Flex learning areas on the second floor surround the two-story space, maintaining that connection between students and library throughout the day.


A compact design allowed the existing campus to be replaced on a small 8.6 acre site. The small plot was less costly and made costly temporary accommodations for staff and students during construction unnecessary. An agreement between the City and School District created savings related to storm water conveyance and detention. Low maintenance flooring throughout saves life-cycle cost, and the less than $170 per sq. ft. project cost is evidence of efficient design and effective use of materials.


A cistern collects and stores rainwater used by students for irrigation of the plants they nurture in the Science Courtyard. Planters provided in this courtyard allow students to study indigenous plants and what enables these species to thrive. All classrooms have large windows facing north or south (with shading) to allow daylighting and connection to the outdoors.


The old campus shared a site with a large high school. This new site, only a few blocks away, affords the school its own individual identity while remaining anchored to the community it serves. A curve in the road offers an impressive view of the building’s façade to those approaching from the south as they pass or exit the District’s stadium complex. The two-story structure signals the importance of the campus to the area without compromising the scale of this long ago established neighborhood.


Because this project replaced an existing campus, information about the school’s existing programs was readily available. However, the goal was to create more than a shiny version of the existing school. The Principal lead a team from the campus to work with the design team throughout the planning and design process. The teams worked closely together to develop a program and design to accommodate the school’s existing programs and needs as well as the District’s 21st Century learning strategies.

School Transformation

The new campus supports all learning types in groups of all sizes. A multipurpose space at each grade level supports activities for individuals, small groups, or multi class gatherings. Small flex learning areas provide a setting where individuals or small groups proceed at their own pace. Outdoor learning plays an important role with outdoor reading areas accessible from the library, and a science courtyard accessible from the science classroom supporting botany, astronomy, and other programs.

Stars of Distinction Star of Distinction Category Winner