AIA COTE Top Ten: Discovery Elementary School, VMDO Architects

VMDO Architects,

Alan Karchmer,

University, Bar,



Discovery Elementary School by VMDO Architects is the largest zero-energy school in the US.

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AIA COTE Top Ten: Discovery Elementary School, VMDO Architects Discovery Elementary School by VMDO Architects is the largest zero-energy school in the US. It is also one of the recipients of the 2017 COTE (Committee on the Environment) Top Ten Awards of the American Institute of Architects (AIA).

After the Brock Environmental Center by SmithJRR Group, that was the outright winner in the COTE Top Ten Awards 2017, the US architecture industry's best-known awards programme for sustainable design excellence, this week we are looking at another of the top ten recipients selected by the Committee on the Environment (COTE) of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) for their social, economic, ecological and aesthetic value - the Discovery Elementary School in Arlington, Virginia by VMDO Architects.
The largest zero-energy school in the US is a 9100 sq.m building on a footprint of just 5,800 square metres that the architects from VMDO, also based in Virginia have integrated into the residential neighbourhood of Arlington, a county with 200,000+ residents situated on the Potomac River, directly across from Washington, D.C.
The primary design goal was to provide a joyful and engaging environment for learning - a place where students can't wait to get to and don't want to leave. The secondary goal was to design a building that uses fewer resources and at the same time makes a regenerative contribution to the welfare of its occupants, the site and the world at large. 
To avoid creating a visual emergency in the neighbourhood, the VMDO design team terraced the mass into a south facing hill, creating a sequence of volumes of two levels where all the PV array is kept on the roof. But the school's green heart doesn't stop at just the architecture. Some of its design highlights include an interactive dashboard so students can monitor the school's energy production and consumption, adjustable photovoltaic panels in the solar laboratory, and observation decks near the different gardens. Discovery Elementary School, Arlington honours its name and is also a nod to astronaut John Glenn, who lived in the neighbourhood, making sustainable discovery a fixed part of the academic curriculum.

Christiane Bürklein

Project: VMDO Architects
Engineer (mechanical, lighting, net-zero energy design: CMTA Consulting Engineers
Engineer (power, plumbing, fire protection): 2rw Consultants Inc.
Engineer (structural): Fox + Associates
Engineer (civil): Bowman Consulting Group
Food service consultant: EIS Inc.
Landscape architect: Oculus
Traffic: Toole Design Group
Cost estimating: Downey & Scott
Construction manager: Heery
Image Credits: Alan Karchmer & VMDO Architects, Alan Karchmer; Lincoln Barbour & VMDO Architects, Alan Karchmer; Digital Design & Imaging Service, Inc; & VMDO Architects, Lincoln Barber & VMDO Architect 
2017 AIA COTE Top Ten Awards

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