Dena’ina Elementary School

Wasilla, Alaska
Learning at the Forest’s Edge

To address overcrowding, the community of Palmer, Alaska needed a school that maximized learning while minimizing environmental impact. When we learned that this region is a seismic zone with only a few hours of daily sunlight throughout the school year, another layer of planning was needed to ensure a safe, student-friendly space.

Using the landscape as a starting point, the team employed LED lighting, a natural materials palette, perforated railings, interior windows, and colored glass to capture light. The lateral bracing required to stabilize against earthquakes became a design element: visible from the commons and gymnasium, the bracing inspired the pattern of the interior windows into the classrooms.

The team combined circulation with shared spaces to more than double the amount of collaborative areas. The result is a safe, colorful school providing students plenty of opportunities for 21st century learning.

A thoughtfully planned main entry protects visitors from high winds, and the south-facing classrooms maximize daylight and regulate temperature where students spend most of their time.
Highly efficient HVAC systems, including radiant perimeter heating panels and displacement ventilation.
Building is solar-oriented and massed for maximum natural light and heating efficiency .
This sustainable school honors the area’s ecology and culture with native landscaping and local art.
Unique strategies address geographic and climatic site challenges: for example, the building responds to the sloping landscape by mitigating topography and providing at-grade access at each entry, eliminating the need for stairs and ramps.

Associate Architect:
Bettisworth North Architects and Planners

Project Team

Steve Turckes
Aimee Eckmann
Todd Snapp