St. Coletta of Greater Washington

Washington, DC

The geometric forms of the main façade are reminiscent of the building blocks the school uses as a metaphor for its curriculum

Washington, DC

Completion Date
2006, Renovation 2019

99,000 SF

Project Type
New Construction, Special Education Charter School, Therapeutic Spaces, Gymnasium

Visual orientation within the school

The mission of the special needs charter school St. Coletta of Greater Washington is to serve children and adults with intellectual disabilities and support their families. The program includes functional academics, skills of daily living and community-based instruction, organized in 50-70-student suites called “houses” that face a vaulted hall called the “Village Green.” The school also provides some medical and therapeutic services, including having nurses and therapists working onsite. The design team considered how to make the visual realm of the school effective and legible through form, color and lighting. The interior of each house is painted a different color, which acts as a way-finding device and helps students identify with their communities with the school.

Northwest elevation

A powerful outward image

North elevation

The site, a former brownfield, is located in a transitional area between a residential community and an institutional zone along Independence Avenue opposite the Armory. The building’s “houses,” each with a private garden, face the residential neighborhood. The largest elements such as the main entrance and common facilities are located along Independence Avenue and expressed as two-story geometric pavilions clad in colorful American-made Ludowici glazed tile. The forms, reminiscent of the building blocks that the school uses as a metaphor for its curriculum, are instantly recognized by the students and often portrayed in their drawings.

Creating a sense of community and belonging through form, materials and color

Tom Rowe, AIA

Principal, Design Practice Leader
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Kathy Dy, AIA

Principal, Design Practice Leader
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