Located in Leamington, ON, the Earth School was developed as a theoretical design proposal to re-focus student learning towards “all things earth”. The school was designed for a New Leamington High School proposal which posited food, nutrition, health and wellness and earth studies as the focus of its curricular studies. The site and school architectural program include: vehicle parking for 200 cars; bus drop zones for 15 school buses; football/soccer field and 6-lane running track; green house; central atrium; auditorium accompanied with a stage; gymnasium; weight rooms; science labs; video/media classroom; cafeteria and library comprising approximately 135,000 sf of building floor area to house 996 students. Leamington is an agricultural juggernaut. The entire community understands the importance of the sustenance of the earth, making it an ideal location for Earth School.
Designed for a very large and gradually sloping site, the school conceptually seeks to use the ground plane as a design starting point thus making an immediate correlation between the fundamental form-making and the curriculum’s main focus. The site slopes in elevation by approximately 21 feet downward from the rear of the site to the front (street). Due to the construction cost of cut and fill operations, the design takes the ground plane and tilts it back upward (in a mirror image of the downward slope) to form a new roof plane. The rear of the site now seamlessly folds into the new roof plane. To augment this gesture, the roof explores earth-coupling as a strategy to mitigate heat loss. The roof, therefore, becomes a new ground plane and is a thermal “blanket” covering the school with grass. Corridors become Learning Labs, internal courts become Growing Zones (Gardens) and sunlight is strategically used throughout the design to enhance internal curriculum needs. Cows graze to maintain the roof grass, forming an integral part of the school’s collaboration with community stakeholders and the agricultural industry. The school regularly programs events, talks and seminars to stay current with earth science streams and larger policy developments to ensure students are engaged and difference-makers upon graduation.