Stirn Hall

Education   /   Hawken School

Stirn Hall

Gates Mills, Ohio    map
Status: Plan

Our proposal for the expansion and renovation of a private school sited on a former agrarian estate in Northeastern Ohio strives to maintain a contextually rich relationship to its history, while giving expression to a highly progressive educational vision. Inspired by the site, we posed the question of what it means to define an artisanal education, using an agrarian sensibility, while discovering historically underutilized landscapes on the campus. This line of thinking pushed us to consider the educational mission and the site in three main categories: Making, Sharing and Inquiry. We organized each of the learning types against varying landscapes; Making [biology, science and fabrication labs] orienting to the woods and creek; Sharing [commons, auditoria, and social spaces] enjoying long views of the meadow to promote intellectual grazing; and Inquiry [classrooms, offices and humanities] orienting to a new Orchard, which also serves to consolidate parking and drop-off.

We drew formal inspiration from the historic barns on the estate, which burned in 1977. These structures set a precedent of scalar manipulation by eschewing conventional openings and floor plates. Furthermore, mining the barn typology, we developed an exterior shell independent from interior programmatic relationships in our effort to design a building free from the tyranny of corridors.

In a community which is almost exclusively white-on-white Western Reserve style, we chose to clad the building in vertical terra-cotta of varying degrees of reflectivity, allowing the structure to pick up the wide natural variation in color and light of the landscape. The result is a massing and image appropriate to the history and scale of the site, with spatial continuity both vertically and horizontally through the building; generating multiple opportunities to gather and socialize in a decidedly authentic contemporary architecture.