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The Haverford School’s New Middle School – Designed With Students in Mind

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Renderings by WRT Design

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By Maarten I. Pesch, AIA, LEED AP, Principal and Architect at WRT

As an architect, I must consider several elements that go into building design, but what I care most about is the impact I can make in the lives of the people who use the buildings. I want what I help create to make people’s lives easier, happier, and more productive – and that’s especially true with a project like The Haverford School’s new Middle School.

As my colleagues and I got to know the School, we came to understand how unique and special Haverford is. In addition to the School’s values, tradition of excellence, and outstanding faculty and staff, Haverford’s campus allows for a natural sense of community and encourages interaction between the divisions.

The new Middle School – set to open in Sept. 2020 – is set in the center of campus and is a modern, integrated 21st century learning environment. Each element of the building was determined based on supporting the growth and education of the students.

Gone are the days of crowded hallways and a building lacking a central gathering space. Instead, the new Middle School will serve as a dramatic gateway to campus with a prominent entrance and a welcoming, light-filled lobby. At 30,000+ square feet, the three-story building is almost double the size of the previous building that housed the Middle School boys at Haverford.

The three-story structure is organized around each grade level with spaces that allow for collaboration, creativity, and innovation. The lobby will serve as the heart of the building – an area for informal gatherings and impromptu Middle School assemblies, with a large maker space that supports project-based robotics learning and experimentation. The upper level offers a range of individual and group learning and study options. These spaces are totally new to the Middle School community and flexible to morph and adapt to learning styles and teaching programs over time.

The Commons

We designed The Commons to be a double-height lobby, connecting two floors visually – with tiered floors to accommodate informal seating – and display areas for Haverford’s core virtues, student art, and School announcements. Overhead garage doors separate The Commons and the nearby Maker Space, allowing the spaces to expand or stay separate depending on programming needs.

The Maker Space

Located right off The Commons, the Maker Space focuses on robotics and electronics. It is intentionally very visible from both inside and outside the Middle School, building excitement for this kind of work and encouraging participation. When you walk into The Commons, you will see students working, exploring, building, and interacting – and that’s the kind of energy and activity that reflects the curious mind of the Haverford boy. The visibility of the Maker Space also reinforces Haverford’s belief that learning happens outside the classroom as well as inside the classroom.

The Learning Commons

This space is located right above the Maker Space on the second floor of the building and is also connected to The Commons. Here, students can do homework, small group work, and meet with the learning specialist in a quiet area. This is a dedicated space for Middle School students to use as their own, as they like – something they’ve never had before.

Photo by Michael Branscom

The Neighborhood Model

Because the middle school years are such a crucial point in the development of young men, the new building is organized by grade level to provide three distinct “neighborhoods.” Each floor includes a student pod (with lockers and cubbies) and a collaboration space surrounded by the core classrooms for that grade level (science, math, English, history). The neighborhood model establishes smaller, scaled communities within the Middle School community at large. And as students progress from sixth to eighth grade, they move from the first floor to the second floor to the third.

In the new building, there are more classrooms, and they are larger, more flexible spaces. Outside each classroom is a tack board, so students and teachers can display what they are working on for all to see.

This is the first time the Middle School building has helped support teaching methods at Haverford, and we are eager to see the impact the building organization will have on the lives of Middle School students. We feel strongly that the neighborhood model helps boys in their development at this important time in their lives, fostering a sense of comradery between peers, and strengthening their relationships with the faculty.

Landscape Design

The focus of the Middle School landscape design is to extend the learning environment outside and create places for students to gather (both formally and informally) outdoors. We have provided more outdoor seating and more intentional social spaces for Middle School boys. We have incorporated previous paving for storm water management and are following LEED Silver standards in our landscape design process.

For me, there is perhaps no greater professional satisfaction than watching a student succeed in a space I’ve helped plan and design – and I know that will happen in the new Middle School when it opens on campus later this fall.

To learn more about The Haverford School, please visit haverford.org/admissions.


Maarten I. Pesch has been at WRT for nearly 40 years. Trained as an architect and urban designer, he has focused his practice on planning and designing for campuses. Pesch’s colleagues on the Haverford Middle School project include Richard King, AIA, LEED AP BD+C, John T. Keene, AIA, Amelia Einbender-Lieber, and Misa Hsinyi Chen, PLA, ASLA. 


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