King Open/Cambridge Street Upper Schools and Community Complex

The King Open Cambridge Street Upper Schools and Community Complex is a six-acre campus redevelopment project in the Wellington-Harrington neighborhood of Cambridge. The existing site was dominated by a low-slung 1950’s building which housed two separate schools: the King Open (Elementary) School and Cambridge Street Upper (Middle) School. The site also contained a branch of the Cambridge Public Library and a public pool complex.

The design team collaborated with the City of Cambridge to reconceptualize the site towards the following goals:

  • Replace and expand the existing school, library, and pool program while adding a headquarters for the Cambridge Public Schools, a public pre-school, and new playgrounds for the adjacent Frisoli Community Center/Head Start Pre-School
  • Increase the amount of on-site open space and create a green connection that extends Donnelly Field to Cambridge Street
  • Create the largest school in Massachusetts to achieve both Net Zero Emissions and LEED v. 4 Platinum certification

The landscape architect worked with the architect, civil engineer, and geothermal engineer to develop a massing and open space strategy that would accommodate the required architectural programming and create close to an acre of additional publicly accessible open space. Initial coordination included the siting of over 200 geothermal wells on a 20’ x 20’ grid beneath most of the open space. The landscape architect coordinated to ensure this grid would not come in conflict with proposed site walls, play equipment footings, trees, and rain gardens. Most importantly, the landscape architect advocated that the grid be excluded from the root zone of a major, mature sycamore on Cambridge Street.

Preservation of this landmark tree became a design driver. The project team hired an arborist to provide monthly evaluations and maintenance of the sycamore (and four additional mature honey locusts that formed an allée on Willow Street) throughout the duration of the close to three-year construction period. Both the landscape design and architecture were coordinated to preserve the root zone and position the Sycamore at the center of the Cambridge Street landscape design.

The completed project incorporates 147 new trees into a series of landscape spaces that surround and flow through the new building. These spaces include:

  • King Open Entry Plaza and Cambridge Street Upper School Plazas – Landscape entries for the two “schools within a school” were designed to give each its own identity. Entries are set at elevation 23.0 to withstand a projected 100-year flood stage associated with climate change.
  • Valente Plaza – A formal extension of the library set at a higher elevation to separate it from the adjacent school entries. This plaza includes spaces for outdoor café tables and a replacement streetside bocce court.
  • Library Garden – A re-imagining of an existing, much-loved children’s story garden at the corner of Cambridge and Berkshire. The new garden recreates the original plant palette and returns sculptural “cat benches” while integrating a major subsurface infiltration chamber.
  • Playgrounds – Five individual playgrounds (1-King Open Pre-K; 2-Kindergarten; 3-Elementary School; 4-Cambridge Street Upper School Playground; and 5-Frisoli Playground) were positioned in two clusters to allow for easier use across age ranges while school is not in session (playgrounds are open to the public outside school hours).
  • South Courtyard – Overlays a 30,000-gallon tank which collects rainwater from the roof for irrigation and toilet flushing. 100% of the roof water is retained.
  • Outdoor Classroom – At the center of the campus, the Outdoor Classroom functions as a flexible multi-use space for full-grade assemblies, individual classes, and spill-out from the adjacent cafeteria. The space includes tiered seating, sloped turf gathering space, garden beds (with integrated storage/seating) and a 900-square-foot raingarden with three bridge crossings.

Project Location: Cambridge, Massachusetts USA

Design year: 2014-2015

Year Built: 2017-2019

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