The Heights - A Cascade of Terraces by BIG | Fascinating Facade

The Heights - A Cascade of Terraces by BIG

This cascading white- Brick and glass façade school in Arlington, Virginia is the first public school in mid-Atlantic, and the fourth school completed by the Copenhagen-based firm- BIG - Bjarke Ingels Group.

Dubbed as ‘The Heights’- this building combines two existing secondary schools- the H-B Woodlawn Program and the Eunice Kennedy Shriver Program. Sprawled over an area of 180,000-square-foot, this school can house up to 775 students.  

Read SURFACES REPORTER’s Comprehensive report on ‘The Heights’:

Unusual Design

The architects from Bjarke Ingels Group came up with the unique design of the building. Architects arranged the classrooms in a fan-shape to allow for “Cascading terraces”. 

They used smooth white-glazed brick that merges the five rectangular floor plates into a comprehensive form. The stacked plates rotates around a fixed focal point and is connected by a central staircase. The stairway alternates between outside and inside to allow access to each of the floors and the plant-filled terraces above each story of the building.

The Heights - A Cascade of Terraces by BIG

This unique design is to enhance its sculptural look and to pay homage to the historic architecture of close by Alexandria. Each part has an outdoor and indoor area. The glass façade allows students to enjoy outside views while studying. 


Along with this school, BIG has also finished several other campus projects in the US.

Other campus projects finished by the firm includes the Isenberg School of Management at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, WeWork’s WeGrow in New York, and the Glasir Tórshavn College on the Faroe Islands.

The Heights - A Cascade of Terraces by BIG

Green Learning Landscape

The Heights’ striking appearance can be credited to the density of the surrounding neighborhood. Positioned on a compact urban site just outside of Washington DC, the twisted Heights schoolcomplex, right beside Rosslyn Highlands Park, is surrounded by roads on its three sides.

The Heights - A Cascade of Terraces by BIG

The green area extends onto the site of the school, starts from the lawn on the sports field to the stepped rooftop gardens. There are. The greenery all around seems like the main arresting feature of the whole concept. 


In addition to the indoor classrooms, the school was designed to utilize these outdoor gardens as spaces for learning and socializing. The higher terraces were envisioned as quiet spaces for small groups, while the larger lowest-level terrace can be used for all-school and community events, in tandem with the 18,700-square-foot recreation field.

The top roof terrace is also open for the public when school is not in session. 

Many of the school’s common spaces, including the 400-seat auditorium, main gymnasium, library, reception, and cafeteria, are centrally located and directly adjacent to the lobby.

The Heights - A Cascade of Terraces by BIG

Easy accessibility to the community-oriented programs hosted in the school encourages public interaction throughout the building, creating a welcoming environment while heightening the visual connectivity between the shared spaces.

The Heights - A Cascade of Terraces by BIG

Other specialized student spaces include an art studio, science and robotic labs, music rehearsal rooms, and two performing arts theaters. The firm has also designed two sunken patios, a new public park, and a main entry garden areaon the bend of the corner of Wilson and Quinn Street.

The Heights - A Cascade of Terraces by BIG

There is an occupational physical therapy suite and the sensory cottageis designed to aid in sensory processing in the lower floors of the building.

The Heights - A Cascade of Terraces by BIG

The Heights Building now accommodates the H-B Woodlawn Secondary Programfor 6th to 12th graders, which emphases the visual and performing arts, and the Eunice Kennedy Shriver Programthat supports students with special educational needs for student ages from 11 to 22. The Heights has also been entitled LEED Gold certification.

The Heights - A Cascade of Terraces by BIG

Splash of Colours in Each Classroom

The Heights - A Cascade of Terraces by BIG

To contrast the monochrome white exterior, each classroom of the building is coated with unique colours, including purple, blue, pink, orange, and yellow. The indoor basketball court has green walls.

The Heights - A Cascade of Terraces by BIG

"Glass walls open up views between the different activities, making it a three-dimensional composition of all aspects of learning and living in the school," said Ingels.

The Heights - A Cascade of Terraces by BIGAs students enter from the central staircase, they are greeted by an expanded gradient of the color spectrum: each classroom bar is defined by its color, combining intuitive wayfinding with a vibrant social atmosphere from the ground to the sky.

The Heights - A Cascade of Terraces by BIG

Project Data

Code: WILS
Date: 26/10/2019
Status: Completed
Size in m2: 16700
Project type: Commission
Client:Arlington Public Schools
Collaborators:LEO A DALY, Robert Silman Associates, Interface Engineering, Gordon, Theatre Projects, Jaffe Holden, Faithful+Gould, GHD, Hopkins Food Service, GeoConcepts, Haley Aldrich, The Sextant Group, Tillotson Design Associates, EHT Traceries, Lerch Bates, Sustainable Design Consulting

Project Team

Partners-in-Charge:Bjarke Ingels, Daniel Sundlin, Beat Schenk, Thomas Christoffersen

Project Managers:Aran Coakley, Sean Franklin

Project Leaders:Tony-Saba Shiber, Ji-young Yoon, Adam Sheraden

Team:Amina Blacksher, Anton Bashkaev, Benjamin Caldwell, Bennett Gale, Benson Chien, Cadence Bayley, Cristian Lera, Daisy Zhong, Deborah Campbell, Douglass Alligood, Elena Bresciani, Elnaz Rafati, Evan Rawn, Francesca Portesine, Ibrahim Salman, Jack Gamboa, Jan Leenknegt, Janice Rim, Jin Xin, Josiah Poland, Julie Kaufman, Kam Chi Cheng, Ku Hun Chung, Margherita Gistri, Maria Sole Bravo, Mark Rakhmanov, Mateusz Rek, Maureen Rahman, Nicholas Potts, Pablo Costa, Ricardo Palma, Robyne Some, Romea Muryn, Saecheol Oh, Seo Young Shin, Seth Byrum Shu Zhao, Sidonie Muller, Simon David, Tammy Teng, Terrence Chew, Valentina Mele, Vincenzo Polsinelli, Zach Walters, Ziad Shehab

*Photography by: Laurian Ghinitoiu
*Text Courtesy: BIG- Bjarke Ingels Group
*The content has been changed from its original form to conform it with SR's writing style. 

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