The Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community High School in Scottsdale, Ariz., designed by DLR Group, was selected as a "Project of Distinction" during the Council of Educational Facility Planners International's (CEFPI) Annual Conference, which was held in Phoenix September 16-19.
The Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community associates the landscape feature as orientation to their place of origin, a relationship between themselves, earth, sky and water.
The site plan is organized to establish a direct connection to Red Mountain, which is a sacred, community icon. The curve of the overall building form embraces this visual relationship and its radial pattern suggests recurring themes in the Salt River Pima culture's basketry designs.
Red Mountain represents a spiritual sense of place. It signifies the home of the Pima Maricopa people. Native American children are taught to understand the land. They're taught to master their senses to the landscape of trees, rocks and dirt. For Native Americans, it's about knowing where you are -- you always know that Red Mountain is in that direction and that contributes to Native Americans' identity.
Reflecting the community's strong sense of family, the classrooms are arranged into three houses, each with its own private courtyard. The student body is organized by grade level into 7-8, 9-10 and 11-12 kis. This planning strategy not only allows the school to operate as three smaller schools within a school, but also addresses the education board's concerns regarding student age diversity.
Smaller courtyards are located between these kis, while a larger, centralized courtyard serves as the campus hub. Landscape features in each courtyard offers a central location where outdoor learning can occur. Adjacent to the kis are vatos, which is a shade arbor. Combined, they create a central node of family. Buildings encompass a closed space, which are shaded courtyards. Windows offer a connection to the outdoors.
A welcoming entry provides an opportunity to weave a story at the public entry by using native symbols to capture the traditional relationships between the river, trees and calendar sticks.
A channel of concrete represents the Salt River. The red hue of the building's masonry construction complements the Red Mountain and the traditional Maricopa pottery while the masonry's pattern symbolizes the horizontal mud and Sahuaro rib or "sandwich" construction of the building.
The high school's building materials and colors amplify the project's connection to the earth, sky and water, in addition to addressing issues of sustainability.
The community envisioned a facility that encouraged student-teacher interaction, allowed students to feel safe and comfortable, and supported opportunities for a variety of elective and interest-driven curriculum courses. Additionally, mentors and teaching staff needed visual access to the campus, encouraging them to reach out and engage the students in their daily activities.
The experienced and diverse project team members collaborated extensively throughout the project's lifespan to ensure the community's goals and visions for education were met. All issues relative to design and construction were handled in a team effort, and the project was within budget.
The spirit of teamwork and cooperation has resulted in a successful project on many levels. Bill Taylor, AIA, principal in the firm of DLR Group, the design architect, said, "Working with the community leaders, the parents, the teachers, the students and the staff members to create a facility that will hopefully improve the children's educational experience and success as well as encourage pride in their rich cultural heritage has been a tremendous privilege."
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