The unique design of the Alexandria Area High School showcases Cuningham Group’s ability to integrate clients’ specific goals into beautiful, functional buildings.
The school, which opened in September of 2014, is the culmination of a multi-year conversation between Cuningham Group and the greater Alexandria community.
“Alexandria marked a new level in our ability to design with and not for a community,” Cuningham Group Principle John Pfluger, LEED® AP, said. “When we started our three-day discussion and community workshop, everyone arrived as a separate voice with a separate identity. Over the next few days, the 100 or so community members and our team all came to know one another and move closer to a single identity and shared idea. It was really remarkable to watch.”
As a result of this co-creative design process, the new school was broken up into four separate wings: sports, performing arts, a 1,013-seat auditorium, and open learning spaces—all of which gather around a three-story Community Commons. The commons, which serve as both an informal gathering space and as the school cafeteria, is a grand, day-lit space intended to create a sense of student belonging and connectedness.
According to Pfluger, the creation of this space was a direct result of student voices.
“It was the student input in the workshop and in later sessions that first envisioned a strong central commons space that they named ‘Eat, Meet, Greet,’” Pfluger said. “By the end of the three days, the entire group supported this public space as a keystone for the school project.”
Another outcome of the community collaboration is the school’s four “academies.” Labeled the “Academies of Alexandria,” these small learning communities feature adaptable spaces and hands-on labs. Glass classroom walls can be reconfigured as technology and classroom needs change, while mobile furnishings empower users to rearrange environments to support a wide range of learning activities. Each academy also features a set of “Learning Stairs,” an informal gathering space for students and faculty.
Associate Principal Paolo Lovagnini, LEED® AP, said he is proud of his work on the project because it pushes the boundaries of what a school can be, and was also the first high school that Cuningham Group designed from the ground up
“Alexandria was the first new high school we ever did,” Lovagnini said. “The school Superintendent said to us, ‘We want you to take it to the edge but not over the edge.’ We designed with the core value that ‘learning happens everywhere’—in circulation spaces, and lobbies, in spaces that can be adopted for small team projects, impromptu meetings, group study.”
Four years later, the innovative design of Alexandria Area High School still stands as a testament to the power of community collaboration.
Cuningham Group designed this project in collaboration with JLG Architects.