Round Rock ISD—Nature to Neighborhood Studio
Architect: Pfluger Architects
With financial and inspirational support to create “Destination Schools” within the district, leaders at one elementary school with a unique location and story chose to become the school for enrichment and the environment. Perched on a bluff overlooking a 30,000-acre national wildlife refuge, campus leadership began developing environments that support their vision. Here students interact with nature on a daily basis with surprising and positive outcomes.
On a bluff between campus and preserved canyonland, The Studio is a hybrid of nature and structure. Materials and openings spark curiosity from outside while disappearing from within. In a practical, yet whimsical solution to securing the space, woven rebar mimics overlapping branches and twigs. Birds and small animals perch there to give students a close-up view of nature. The supported experiences expand the campus vision for talent development, joyful learning, and creative innovation.
“How does one measure the value of The Studio and the outdoor learning environment? Faculty surveys—Teachers are happier and believe their teaching has improved. Community involvement—Funding was obtained from multiple public and private entities. Students used their writing skills to help craft grant requests. Hands-on learning—the gift of a stream table lets children get messy while learning about erosion and sedimentation. Sustainability—Setting an example of conservation and stewardship.”
The off-grid Studio is naturally ventilated and powered by an 8kW solar array and battery storage system. A 3,700-gallon cistern stores rainwater for two ponds and a stream table which interactively teaches students about erosion and sedimentation. Though renewable, these systems are limited to battery and cistern capacities, so students learn conservation. Repurposing the foundation conserved resources and the recycled steel lattice cladding welcomes wild visitors into the student experience.
The Studio, along with student-designed gardens, natural environments, and playscapes collectively support the community both physically and in educational purpose. The Studio can convert from an intimate indoor setting to expansive communal space by opening overhead doors on four sides providing flexible space for activities like restoring bicycles for charity, nature photography classes, and yoga classes for faculty.
The building is exposed and purposeful, celebrating simplicity and function. It is not a stand-alone facility, but rather an integral part of a broader campus masterplan that optimizes the unique adjacency to the preserved land. The protected wild space offers unparalleled opportunities to support connections through profound, interdisciplinary learning experiences. Teachers can design lessons that integrate student strengths and interests with the outdoor learning spaces.
The culmination of 10-years of planning, The Studio honors the unique nature and topography that surrounds it. The inverted butterfly roof reaches from the school to the preserved land with equal emphasis and accommodates sustainable systems that align with the campus’ educational focus. Health and well-being has improved by interacting with nature outdoors. The space is continually evolving—a perfect representation of this school, the surrounding community, and the magnificent land next door.
Star of Distinction Category Winner