Transforming Brutal into Beautiful

Winchester High School
Winchester, Massachusetts

How do you transform something brutal into something beautiful, rigidity into flexibility, and the imposing into the inviting? These are the questions SMMA had to answer in its approach to renovating Winchester High School, a 1970’s Brutalist-styled building, serving 1,370 students. The directive from the Town of Winchester was to transform the out-of-place aesthetic and to reflect the school’s top ten Massachusetts public school status and National Blue Ribbon credentials through new programming and design.

Through a rigorous educational planning process, the project team incorporated technology, STEM, and art-related disciplines into the school, while, accommodating various learning styles and classroom typologies, and co-locating classes to allow for integrated learning and collaboration.

A Sinking Site

The team began with a feasibility study that included a town-wide search for a suitable alternative to the existing site, focusing on twelve properties. The study proved that the original location was best suited for the school, given its ideal location in the middle of town. The site also provided specific challenges, as it was built entirely on top of a landfill and surrounded by a floodplain. It required extraordinary bracing via pressured injected footings, helical piles, and tilt slabs to stiffen the massive concrete building frame and prevent settlement over time. 

The process the engineering team developed to make this happen earned a Bronze Award in Engineering Excellence.

  • Architecture and Interior Design Services for Winchester High School Auditorium

The building was rehabilitated in three phases, all of which were completed while occupied by students, further complicating the project. Adding to the laundry list of challenges, there wasn’t any classroom swing space available. As a result, this required the placement of 35 modular classrooms on the site.

  • Construction of New Winchester High School
  • Construction of New Winchester High School
  • Construction of New Winchester High School

Supporting the Curriculum

The new layout reversed the previous configuration by locating classroom and student spaces on the perimeter, to gain natural light, while secondary classrooms and support spaces were placed towards the core of the building.

Specific classroom “wings” correspond to different subjects, such as arts instruction or science, technology, engineering, mathematics (STEM) learning. In addition, the team created critical adjacencies for STEAM (STEM, plus the arts) programs. These interventions included replacing outdated workshops, equipment, pedagogy, and inflexible isolated rooms with multi-layered and connected programs.

As well, relocating key visual and performing art programs puts them in close proximity to the new Innovation Lab and enables greater opportunity for integrated programming.

Duct Weight Calculation

Winchester High School's ductwork systems were previously designed using galvanized steel, aluminum, and carbon steel, each of which had different weights.

Aside from adding a parameter for materiality, the team added parameters for calculated value, including duct surface area and total duct weight. The total weight of the ductwork has been reflected in the creation of one schedule per each material. The correct gauge and weight of material from the SMACNA standards was then applied to calculate the equivalent diameter of each duct.

The team concluded that the school used 85,430 lbs of galvanized steel, 3,522 lbs of aluminum, and 91,430 lbs of carbon steel. That's more than 5.5 miles of ductwork and 10.5 miles of piping!

Brutal to Beautiful

The school’s rapidly deteriorating conditions did not inspire belief that it could be transformed. Knowing that the school’s outdoor learning environments and parking would both be greatly affected by site conditions, SMMA proposed the use of lightweight materials, seismic bracings for the rigid concrete frame, chilled beam HVAC systems throughout, and increased glazing for increased daylight and updated aesthetics. The design proposed at a town meeting garnered nearly unanimous support.

As a result, SMMA was able to transform the school into a stronger, lighter, and more energy-efficient building, that is an asset to the community-at-large. The new school conveys in its built fabric the educational ideals of the faculty and elevates the status of its students by creating a superior environment for learning.