The decision was made to proceed with an occupied “gut rehab” of the existing building—only the reinforced concrete structure will remain in the academic wings, while other portions of the building will receive more modest renovations, with no disruption to student learning/schedules.
Transforming Brutal into Beautiful
How do you transform the brutal into the beautiful, the rigid into the flexible, the imposing into the inviting? These are the questions SMMA had to answer in its approach to renovating Winchester High School, an example of 1970s Brutalist architecture serving 1,209 students in a bedroom community situated approximately 20 minutes northwest of Boston.
SMMA's work began with a feasibility study that included a town-wide search for a suitable alternative to the existing high school site, focusing on 12 properties. Ultimately, the study determined that the current location was most suitable for a new school. This is not to say, however, that the site did not pose significant challenges. The land surrounding the facility had settled considerably—as much as three feet in some places!—and the school’s poor soils (having been built on a former landfill) and location within the Aberjona River floodplain were among the numerous constraints and considerations that had to be addressed prior to the commencement of work.
The school’s rapidly deteriorating condition did not inspire belief that it could be saved, much less transformed. Despite this, and the knowledge that outdoor learning environments and parking would both be greatly affected, SMMA’s proposed use of lightweight materials, seismic bracings for the rigid concrete frame, chilled beam HVAC systems throughout, and increased glazing for daylight and aesthetics all inspired nearly unanimous town meeting support.