From the moment you approach the Thompson Elementary School in Arlington, Mass., you can tell that it’s different, with its yellow and orange exterior detailing giving it a sense of whimsy. Each element is carefully tailored to its young K-5th grade student and community member audience both inside and out.
Set at an angle on the school grounds, students and visitors won’t approach the “back” of the building no matter which direction they’re coming from, thanks in part to a unique masonry pattern and thoughtful placement of windows. Multiple sidewalks lead to the building from all angles and then converge at one of two main entrances—one of which has a giant steel, yellow pineapple above it—and into the school’s main lobby.
As a design element, the pineapple (a universal symbol of welcome and hospitality) is carried throughout the space, just as the bright colors and whimsical nature of the building’s exterior design are carried in from the exterior and are applied throughout the interior.
The commitment to being a welcoming and hospitable space is evident as soon as you step inside the main entrances and into the lobby, where the office and reception areas are open instead of being closed off by walls.
“At Thompson, it was very clear that they wanted to have this open to everyone, not have all of the back of the house stuff closed off, because they wanted people to feel very welcome,” explained Susan Elmore, marketing manager for HMFH.
The central lobby area also serves as a security feature, allowing visitors to check in, and staff to monitor who is coming and going. The lobby area has clear sightlines to many of the common areas in the school, including the gathering space outside the library on the second floor where students congregate, the cafeteria, and classrooms on the ground floor. This openness and scale is more comfortable for both students and visitors alike, as wayfinding is made easy without signage because key shared-use spaces can be oriented from one central location.