Sunita L. Williams Elementary School // Needham, Massachusetts

When the aging Hillside School was to be relocated to a new site in Needham, the Town reimagined the spatial concepts that supported their educational program. Communities of four classrooms per grade anchor the ends of a classroom wing on each of three floors. These classroom pods flank shared project-based extended learning spaces and specialty classrooms for Art, STEM, and Spanish.

The purchase of a former poultry farm and several residences located between a commuter artery and large vegetated wetlands ultimately afforded the school opportunities for extensive outdoor learning environments that have been incorporated into their curriculum. The topography and narrow site required careful consideration of building placement to assure proper daylighting to classrooms and accessibility to all building entrances. Context of the residential neighborhood informed the building scale and materials. The result is a linear building of natural wood and stone materials that steps down into the hill to reduce the overall scale. The design takes advantage of the sloped site to create intimate spaces for students to gather in outdoor classrooms, gardens, and the small amphitheater.

In harmony with the natural surroundings and residential vernacular, the exterior employs earth tones and natural materials: natural stone veneer, brick, and wood veneer composite panel cladding. Variations in the building massing and horizontal compositional elements temper the scale of a three-story classroom wing within the residential setting. A sensory garden, an outdoor classroom next to an educational pond, and connection to the wetlands via trails complete the integration with the site.

The interior supports daylight harvesting strategies. Linear wood ceilings and aquatic themed tile treatments in circulation spaces reinforce the building's relationship to the woods and wetlands.

Project Details

Owner Needham Public Schools
Completed 2019
SQ. FT. 90,927