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Dunbar Senior High School

1301 New Jersey Avenue, NE Washington, DC 20001

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12/14/10: Dunbar High School Development Design Unveiling






Project Overview

Founded in the 1870s as the M Street School, and renamed Dunbar High School as it moved to its new campus in 1916, graduates of Dunbar have demonstrated vision and leadership. Their accomplishments include becoming the first African-Americans to graduate from West Point and Annapolis, the first African-American to become full professor at a major university, the first African-American federal judge, the first African-American general the first Afican-American Cabinet member and the first African-American elected to the United States Senate since Reconstruction.

The edifice that was the 1917 Dunbar High School Building was truly civic architecture. The building, with its grand stair, towers and clock, represented the values and dreams of the students, their families and the larger community, their aspirations for notable and lasting achievement. Inside, the building supported a modern and intensive curriculum for the time and the learning community was rooted in two distinct classroom wings centered upon the Armory, the physical and symbolic "heart" of the school.

Looking back at the design of the 1917 building that fostered such success, it is easy to identify attributes that remain relevant to the design of great learning environments nearly one hundred years later. That building provided:


The concept design for Dunbar High School provides for a new sense of clarity and purpose for the future campus that honors the tradition of the original building.

The entry plaza with a south orientation is approached from New York Avenue and seen from across the existing playing fields of the Dunbar Recreation Center, across N Street. The comings and goings of students, visitors and staff is accommodated in an ample plaza, bathed in morning light and designed to signify the seriousness of purpose of the institution.

The plaza is defined by the academic wing to the west and the administrative/media center to the east.
The academic wing is characterized by bay windows and towers, reminiscent of the historic and well-loved Dunbar school building. The Paul Dunbar Media Center steps down in scale to meet the residential buildings to the east on First Street and is developed as a "lantern," a luminous room honoring Paul Dunbar¹s achievements and representing the continuing achievement and enlightenment of 21st Century students. Visible from New York Avenue across the Dunbar Recreation Center, the lantern contributes to the civic presence of the school.

The Armory of the historic Dunbar provides the inspiration for the principle organizing element of the school¹s interior, a new Armory becomes the "heart of the school" connecting the academic wing, the sports fields, the gym, pool, auditorium and cafeteria seating areas. Within the new Armory a generous height and main stairs connect the two "public" levels of the school. Views throughout the Armory give a sense of openness and connectivity to the school¹s site and program.

The Academic wing creates flexible learning environments that can readily accommodate four distinct academies, grade level organization or an interdisciplinary or departmental comprehensive high school organization. Faculty offices integrated into each level ensure positive interaction between faculty and students throughout the school.

Finally, like the original Dunbar, the athletic complex of the gym and pool establishes an axial alignment with the track and sports venues to the west, opening up views to and from event spaces. The overall design seeks to embody the education of the whole person, from the healthy activities of athletic participation to "Tide Terrace," two double height spaces in the academic wing with views out over the playing fields of the school.





Debi Gasper | 202-342-2122 | dgasper@theadagency.com