Houston ISD—North Forest High School
Architect: Page & DLR Group
In 2013, a large district assumed responsibility for a former school district. The State provided funding for a new high school for 1,300 students, across the street from the existing school. In a historically disadvantaged community, the project creates a secure learning environment in which students are motivated through thematic learning in four small learning communities. The campus fosters pride in school tradition through a gymnasium, central commons, and athletic practice fields.
The design takes advantage of adjacent forest with an articulated exterior envelope; maximized views; and accent exterior/interior wood at the entrance. Students find a sense of belonging in the large school through four small learning communities, color-coded by theme and organized along a spine with clear sight lines. Each small community focuses on a two-level common space for collaboration among small or large groups. Pride is fostered through warm finish materials and school colors.
“Exterior finish materials are economical, but varied for human scale and interest. Small learning communities are highlighted by color choices for carpet, furniture, and paint, rather than expensive finish materials. Variable refrigerant flow units were utilized for economical cooling in large building with a hot, humid climate; the system reduces ductwork significantly. The varied form of the building uses mirrored and repeating patterns for economy and ease of construction.”
“The building earned LEED Certification with daylight and views, including a dramatic forest view from the commons. Open space was preserved, and adjacent habitat was protected. The building provides opportunities for healthy movement through an indoor running track, two gymnasiums, protected exterior stairways, and athletic fields. The school features low-emitting materials, recycled and regional materials, and a “cool” roof. Building performance was verified through enhanced commissioning.”
The previous high school was dark and institutional; the new school is bright and welcoming. A community room for parents and neighbors is accessible from both inside and outside. The classrooms and gathering spaces celebrate students with natural light and clean, modern finishes. Special-needs life skill spaces are integrated in the campus in each wing. When the students entered their new school for the first time, they cheered. One student said, “It’s more like…a college space….I love it!”
The design team and school staff toured a precedent school, then held a two-day charrette with administrators, teachers, students, and parents. The team met with a small teacher/student group monthly during the design process and incorporated feedback from two community meetings. The collaboration reinforced the concept that the new school should respond to the adjacent forest, encourage student-centered learning, and prepare students for career and college environments.
The design provides formal and informal collaboration spaces of various sizes, a dramatic departure from the previous regimented layout. A sense of belonging and community is fostered through articulation of small learning communities, focused on commons and adjacent to flexible, high-bay career exploration spaces: veterinary science, firefighting, and diesel mechanics. Sight lines and interior windows allow self-policing and encourage engagement in specialized career and JROTC programs.
Star of Distinction Category Winner