Billerica, a quiet town in Middlesex County, Massachusetts, USA, has reinvented itself in recent years. It has shifted from an agrarian centre to a 19th-century mill town. Modern times called for upliftment in the former high school, which was outdated and dysfunctional and did not represent the town’s true identity. A flexible, forward-looking educational environment was needed to match their myriad of achievements. Will & Perkins were presented with the opportunity to design the town’s largest civic building, which embodied its aspirational commitment to education along with respecting its historic civic legacy. 

This High School was designed for the town of Billerica, Massachusetts School Building Authority over an area of 325,000 square feet, the completion of which took place in the year 2020. Leed Silver Certification was targeted for the highschool. Many Architectural awards were also awarded to  the Billerica Highschool like the Architecture Award AIA National 2022, Honour Award, K-12 Educational Facilities, BSA Design Awards 2021, Architizer A+ Awards 2020 and many more. 

Billerica Memorial High School by Perkins and Will - Sheet1
Billerica Memorial High School_©Chuck Choi

Design Philosophy

The building has been designed to express the continuous change education can impart to our identity. Perkins & Will have encapsulated the concept of “Reflection with Direction: Honoring the Past, Aiming for the Future.” They have mined through the past and looked forward to the future, thereby reflecting the evolution of the suburb where the high school is located. The architecture puts forward a display for the students and the public on how simplicity can give rise to depth. A connection has been made between the school’s discipline and the community, and careful siting of the new building, creative programming, appropriate material selection, and spatial organization have been taken into account, hence giving rise to the reformed and cultured Billerica Memorial High School.

Billerica Memorial High School by Perkins and Will - Sheet2
Inward-facing elevations of the L-shaped building are clad in metal panel_©Chuck Choi

Daylighting also played an important role in moulding the building design. Since the user pattern in a school is predictable, light and shadows were used to animate the site and building. Therefore, massing the academic bar containing the classrooms was done, ensuring ample light in those spaces throughout the day.

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The school’s commons finds its identity by connecting river to town and sky to ground_©Chuck Choi

Planning

The building site is located northwest of the Town Commons, midway down the commons’ topographical steps down to the Concord River, and spans 31 acres. Perkins & Wills began by figuring out how varied functions could be integrated as well as segregated depending on the time of day. An L-shaped plan was designed, where one long leg consisted of academic functions while the other housed a gym, auditorium, and arts programs. The building was limited to only four levels to keep a visual connection with the suburban area around it. This, in turn, also helped control the costs as well as kept the scale sensitive to the adjacent single-family houses

Perkins & Will architects mashed up large parts of the program in such a way that spaces flowed into one another, i.e., visually connecting corridors were provided; flexible-classroom wings were linked to the building’s central spine via interdisciplinary hubs and labs, which fostered active learning. Furthermore, the common dining atrium was allocated on the north side of the building, which integrated the lower and upper levels of the school. These demands required a high degree of acoustic taming but also an abundance of natural light and visual drama appropriate to the central organizing space of the school. That these multiple demands were made in the central space of the project, informed the solution that singularly incorporated all of them and more.

Billerica Memorial High School by Perkins and Will - Sheet4
Dining Common Atrium_©Chuck Choi
Billerica Memorial High School by Perkins and Will - Sheet5
Site Plan with phasing diagram_©architectural record
Billerica Memorial High School by Perkins and Will - Sheet6
Floor Plan_©architectural record

Style

The school has a neoclassical vibe and follows a late-1800s industrial context, which connects the distinct design elements to speak a humble material language. Perkins & Wills have used simple materials with an innovative approach, like three-dimensional compositions. The language of this building stands as a metaphor for the mission of the “maker” classroom, a part of the school’s guiding curriculum.  

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Corbeled brick on the south facade_©Perkins & Wills

The corbeled brick on the south facade takes the daylight into account, amplifying the shadows and quietly functioning as a masonry sundial, tracking the path of the sun.

Material Language

The materials are carefully chosen for the high school. They reflect the heritage of the place. Geometric corbelling using red brick can be seen on the exterior façade, while timber has been given a new meaning through carbon-conscious detailing. The building has a certain rhythmic style to it because of the materials chosen to account for the same. 

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Repetitive frame expression on the facade using brick_©Perkins & Wills

The building’s elongated brick façade is organized by a repetitive frame expression. Brick is used within this frame as a wall material containing windows of varying dimension and function by stepping, corbelling, and coursing to animate the façade.

Billerica Memorial High School by Perkins and Will - Sheet9
Timber takes new meaning through carbon-conscious detailing_©Perkins & Wills

Construction

Acoustics, life safety, and flexibility in the student commons were the driving factors behind the necessity of a creatively integrated daylighting solution. The synthesis of the dual needs to reflect light and exhaust deadly gases led to the construction of south-facing skylight monitors, pouring light downwards along with concealing a carefully integrated exhaust system that removes smoke in an emergency. This created a visual drama in the central organizing space of the school, thereby capturing the rhythms of academic time as the sun pushes shadows through the building. This act of making and focusing was reflected by Perkins & Wills by the skylight monitor over the high school dining commons. 

In the detailed language of the skylight monitors, one can find the material honesty of expression and process. The monitors are white, lined with a 1/4-inch metal plate, and have perforations on the exhaust sides that are set against the wood-laminated structural beams. These metal plate mirrors are used as guardrails along the edges of the atrium space and are held in place by exposed fasteners organized about the spacing of the roof windows above and the north curtain wall mullions beyond, consistent with the dual themes of making and process that informed the design throughout the school.

The integration of skylight and exhaust plenum explored in a rendered section>>_©Perkins & Wills
  1. Online sources

Citations for websites:

Author/Source if no specific author (Year). Title of web document/page. [online]. (Last updated: if this information is available). Available at: URL [Accessed date: Day/Month/Year].

For example:

AIA (2022). Billerica Memorial High School. [online]. Available at: https://www.aia.org/showcases/6473320-billerica-memorial-high-school [Accessed 20 October 2022].

Beth Broome (2021). Billerica Memorial High School by Perkins & Will. [online]. Available at: https://www.architecturalrecord.com/articles/14937-billerica-memorial-high-school-by-perkinswill

 [Accessed 20 October 2022].

Perkins & Wills (2020). Billerica Memorial High School by Perkins & Will. [online]. Available at: https://perkinswill.com/project/billerica-memorial-high-school/ [Accessed 20 October 2022].

Architizer (2020). Billerica Memorial High School by Perkins & Will. [online]. Available at: https://architizer.com/projects/billerica-memorial-high-school/

 [Accessed 20 October 2022].

  1. Image s/visual mediums

Citations for Image s/photographs – Print or Online:

Last name of artist/photographer, first initial (if known). (Year of production). Title of Image . [type of medium] (Collection Details if available – Document number, Geographical place: Name of library/archive/repository).

For example:

Choi Chuck. (2020). Billerica Memorial High School [Photograph]. 

Choi Chuck. (2020). Inward-facing elevations of the L-shaped building are clad in metal panel [Photograph].

Choi Chuck. (2020). The school’s commons finds its identity by connecting river to town and sky to ground [Sketch].

Choi Chuck. (2020). Dining Common Atrium [Photograph].

Architectural Record. (2020). Site Plan with Phasing Diagram [Photograph].

Architectural Record. (2020). Floor Plan [Photograph].

Perkins & Wills. (2020). Corbeled brick on the south facade takes measure of the day’s light, amplifying shadows and quietly functioning as a masonry sun dial, tracking the path of the sun [Photograph].

Perkins & Wills. (2020). The building’s elongated brick façade is organized by a repetitive frame expression. Brick is used within this frame as a wall material containing windows of varying dimension and function by stepping, corbelling, and coursing to animate the façade [Photograph].

Perkins & Wills. (2020). Timber takes new meaning through carbon-conscious detailing; The embodied carbon in the FSC Certified spruce timber structure offsets the equivalent of a typical school bus traveling over 460,000 miles [Photograph].

Perkins & WIlls. (2020). The integration of skylight and exhaust plenum explored in a rendered section [Photograph].

Author

Mansi Solanki is an architect, avid reader and an enthusiastic writer. She loves to put words to design visuals and narrate the story through a meticulous blend of words. Looking forward to go through a kaleidoscopic journey and grow not just as an architect but as an individual.

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