December 14, 2010

Mayor Fenty and OPEFM Director Lew Announce Dunbar HS Design Competion Winner 

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Contact: Safiya J. Simmons | (202) 724-6689

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Washington, DC—After a year-long design competition for the new Dunbar High School, Mayor Adrian M. Fenty announced today that the winning proposal was submitted by the architecture team of Ehrenkrantz Eckstut & Kuhn Architects-Engineers (EEK) and Moody-Nolan Architects. Both firms are based in Washington, D.C.

Mayor Fenty was joined at the announcement by Dunbar alum and Mayor-elect Vincent Gray, OPEFM Executive Director Allen Lew, other political leaders, alumni, students and community members.

“The historic Dunbar building was so much a part of the fabric of Washington, DC that I am proud that we are now poised to build a facility that honors that past with all of the 21st-century technology and academic amenities of the finest schools in the world,” said Fenty. “This design is fantastic and I anticipate the new Dunbar will not only encourage our students to reach greater heights, but become a catalyst for the ongoing revitalization of this neighborhood.”

OPEFM issued a Request for Proposals for an architect to design a brand new school that would evoke the same pride and passion of the original historic Paul Laurence Dunbar High School built on the site in 1917 as the first municipally funded public high school for African-American students. Dunbar has produced a virtual “Who’s Who” of notable African-Americans including Charles Drew, Duke Ellington, and the District’s current Congressional Representative, Eleanor Holmes Norton.

“The Dunbar design competition represents just how far DC schools have come in four short years,” said Lew. “Nearly 20 world-class architectural firms, including two European firms, bid on this project. I am confident that the winning team and their innovative approach exhibits a level of design excellence that is consistent with OPEFM’s recent projects such as Stoddert, School Without Walls and H.D. Woodson. I’d place this design next to any private school in the area.”

The winning team is a joint venture of Ehrenkrantz Eckstut & Kuhn Architects-Engineers, a DC-based, award-winning international practice with particular expertise in urban school design. They have collaborated with DC-based Moody-Nolan, the largest African American-owned architectural practice in the United States.

Both firms are the recipients of numerous architectural design awards. EEK has garnered several awards for their work on DC school modernization projects including Stoddert Elementary and School Without Walls High School. On average Moody-Nolan wins a design award every 39.2 days. To date, the firm has been awarded more than 155 design citations, including the Gold Medal Firm of the Year Award from AIA, Ohio Chapter and the inaugural 2000-2001 NOMA Firm of the Year Award.

“As residents of the District of Columbia we are incredibly proud to have been selected to design the new Dunbar High School,” said Sean O’Donnell, a principal with EEK. “Our design will honor the school's traditions, distinguished history and notable alumni, respect and enhance the neighborhood and create a sustainable 21st Century learning environment that, like the original 1917 building, will become the pride of all of the families of the District of Columbia.”

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About Dunbar High School

  • Originally named Preparatory High School for Colored Youth and later known as M Street High School, the name was changed in honor of African-American poet Paul Laurence Dunbar.
  • Dunbar was D.C.'s first high school for black students.
  • Since its inception, the school has graduated many of the well-known figures of the 20th century, including Duke Ellington, Sterling Brown, H. Naylor Fitzhugh, Nannie Helen Burroughs, Charles R. Drew, Charles Hamilton Houston, Robert H. Terrell, and Robert C. Weaver.
  • Its illustrious faculty included Anna Julia Cooper, Kelly Miller, Mary Church Terrell, and Carter G. Woodson.
  • Team name is the Crimson Tide. Colors are red and black.

About the Winning Design

The edifice that was the 1917 Dunbar High School Building was truly civic architecture. The building, with its grand stair, towers and clock, represented the values and dreams of the students, their families and the larger community, their aspirations for notable and lasting achievement. Inside, the building supported a modern and intensive curriculum for the time and the learning community was rooted in two distinct classroom wings centered upon the Armory, the physical and symbolic "heart" of the school.

Like Paul Laurence Dunbar, many of those who studied in this building, became people of great distinction and accomplishment. From the first African-American federal judge to the first African-American member of a President’s Cabinet Dunbar has produced countless former students who distinguished themselves in the arts, sports, civil rights and politics.

Looking back at the design of the 1917 building that fostered such success, it is easy to identify attributes that remain relevant to the design of great learning environments nearly one hundred years later. That building provided:

  • A public place at the entry so notable that it became the setting for yearbook photos;
  • The Armory that served as the physical and social "heart of the school";
  • Distinct classroom "neighborhoods" within the larger school;
  • Pervasive natural light and ventilation through huge windows;
  • Technology-rich learning environments;
  • A campus setting that engages the Armstrong school, the track/field and the community.

The concept design for Dunbar High School provides for a new sense of clarity and purpose for the future campus that honors the tradition of the original building.


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The entry plaza with a south orientation is approached from New York Avenue and seen from across the existing playing fields of the Dunbar Recreation Center, across N Street. The comings and goings of students, visitors and staff is accommodated in an ample plaza, bathed in morning light and designed to signify the seriousness of purpose of the institution.

The plaza is defined by the academic wing to the west and the administrative/media center to the east. The academic wing is characterized by bay windows and towers, reminiscent of the historic and well-loved Dunbar school building. The Paul Dunbar Media Center steps down in scale to meet the residential buildings to the east on First Street and is developed as a "lantern," a luminous room honoring Paul Dunbar’s achievements and representing the continuing achievement and enlightenment of 21st Century students. Visible from New York Avenue across the Dunbar Recreation Center, the lantern contributes to the civic presence of the school.

The Armory of the historic Dunbar provides the inspiration for the principle organizing element of the school’s interior, a new Armory becomes the "heart of the school" connecting the academic wing, the sports fields, the gym, pool, auditorium and cafeteria seating areas. Within the new Armory a generous height and main stairs connect the two "public" levels of the school. Views throughout the Armory give a sense of openness and connectivity to the school’s site and program.

The Academic wing creates flexible learning environments that can readily accommodate four distinct academies, grade level organization or an interdisciplinary or departmental comprehensive high school organization. Faculty offices integrated into each level ensure positive interaction between faculty and students throughout the school.

Finally, like the original Dunbar, the athletic complex of the gym and pool establishes an axial alignment with the track and sports venues to the west, opening up views to and from event spaces. The overall design seeks to embody the education of the whole person, from the healthy activities of athletic participation to "Tide Terrace," two double height spaces in the academic wing with views out over the playing fields of the school.

About OPEFM

The Office of Public Education Facilities Modernization (OPEFM) was created by the historic DC Education Reform Act of 2007 to undertake the construction and modernization of DC Public School (DCPS) facilities and other large scale capital projects. The office also manages all non-custodial maintenance for the school system.

In just three years the OPEFM has achieved an unprecedented $1 billion in new school construction, long overdue system and safety improvements, playgrounds, athletic fields and other amenities.

The projects are cutting edge and have established standards that meet and in some cases exceed those of private educational institutions. The District of Columbia is among the most progressive US municipalities with regard to “green” buildings. By law, every modernized school must meet a minimum of Silver LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification as defined by the US Green Building Council.

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