The design challenge for the Willowwind School was to take a dilapidated, dingy, abandoned Moose Lodge and turn it into a green, playful, cheerful environment for learning at the preschool and elementary school levels. The bones of the Lodge were basically sound and the program matched its size fairly closely, but the smell of stale beer and dimly lit plywood paneling made visualizing a pleasant school difficult. By moving and removing walls here and there, and adding an elevator and office space for the administration, the functions of the school were well accommodated and the grim front façade of the lodge was transformed.
With natural light as a priority, roof monitors, clerestories, and high-tech skylights let copious amounts of light into all of the interior spaces. A hole cut in the center of the classroom section for a grand stair allows natural light from the skylight above to illuminate the lower level gallery. A nylon cloth diffuser in the shape of an inverted pyramid activates the stair with its playful geometry and helps the light reach deeper into the space. With the exception of some of the brick walls, the entire exterior of the building was re-skinned with new materials. Lots of floor-to-ceiling windows and doors give each classroom direct visual and physical connection with the outdoors.
Essential to the philosophy of integrated subject matter and hands-on learning espoused by the Willowwind School is a plan that nurtures a sense of community, connectivity, and interactivity. At Willowwind this interactivity is achieved with carefully designed circulation that links, and itself becomes, gathering spaces. A wider-than-necessary learning street has room for exhibits and projects as well as for informal gathering. Teachers step out of their classrooms to kibitz over the railings of the grand central stair.
Architect: Harry Teague Architects, Neumann Monson Architects
Structural Engineer: Neumann Monson Architects
Mechanical Engineer: West Plains Engineering
Energy Modeler: The Weidt Group
General Contractor: Apex Construction Co.
MEP Design Engineers (Cedar Rapids)
Photography: Alan Stoker