Rural School
Fall 2007

A K-4 elementary school for alternative education in the rural community of Panora, Iowa.

On a vast plot of undulating prairie, the school is situated in a distinct basin defined on one side by the edge of a forest and on the other by an oxbow-shaped swale in the landscape dotted with trees. The entry from the adjacent county highway brings drivers into the site, briefly directed toward the creek to the west, then sloping upward to where one can overlook the school’s position in the basin before circulating along the oxbow, around a small cluster of trees, then back towards the entrance ramp.

The form of the school is stratified into six uniform, rhythmic masses, bookended by a trapezoidal bar of common space. The blocks are sunken below grade, creating a variety of sunken courtyards, natural bridges, and prairie grass between the blocks. Circulating through the school imbues the inhabitants with the emotional tension that comes from feeling within the earth. The solidity of the concrete walls and courts encourages contemplation as one moves throughout the campus where natural and man-made incidents and transitions become present. Flat prairie around a sunken basin; expansive field against the woods beyond; earth below, sky above.

A school for the horizon.