Core Design Team

Firm: NAC Architecture

Kevin Flanagan: Principal in Charge
Boris Srdar: Lead Designer
Brian Love: Project Manager
David Shaffer: Project Architect
Liz Katz: Project Architect
Sarah Finis: Interior Designer
Lauren Jane Peterson: Environmental Graphics
Garrett Nelli: Designer
Lisa Glenn: Designer
Michelle Hook: Designer


Structural, Civil Engineer: Coughlin Porter Lundeen
Mechanical/Electrical/Plumbing: Hargis Engineers
Landscape Architect: Osborn Consulting
Construction Management: CBRE/Heery
Contractor: Jody Miller Construction
Electrical Engineer: Travis Fitzmaurice Wartelle Balangue Engineers Inc.

Project Narrative

The new $34.5 million Wing Luke Elementary School replaces a building on the same site to serve a growing multicultural community. The design began in 2016 and doors opened to students in the fall of 2021. The school was master planned for a future 12-classroom expansion that would bring the capacity up to 650 students. Sizing the core facilities to support the larger size was the best approach for a neighborhood expecting significant growth throughout the life of the school.Architects were tasked with reflecting the school’s diverse students, families, and staff, while celebrating the unique bond manifested by this collective. The design process investigated how communal space typologies from around the world could inform social interaction across a wide range of experiences.

New District Model for Excellence. Located in an academically underserved part of Seattle, the new Wing Luke Elementary has turned the city’s education expectations around. Addressing a longstanding demarcation prompted the question, “Can schools in the south end be as good or better than schools in the north end?” Teachers in the previous school had dedicated themselves to overcoming drawbacks; the new environment now sets the stage for learning equity and accelerates their success. Tasked with being an inclusive multi-cultural school, Wing Luke shines for manifesting an extraordinary vision for public education that ensures every child, teacher, and family knows they are welcome, valued, safe, and served.Reaching Students and Families Where They Are. This phrase resounds as the design theme. We focused on creating a learning environment to help teachers connect with their students according to individual needs and developed a series of ways to reach school parents and families to gain their input and feedback. Many Wing Luke parents work two jobs and were unable to join regularly scheduled evening meetings to discuss planning and design, so we expanded efforts to reach community and family members at events they were already attending, such as Academic Night at the existing school. Filling the stage and posting areas with drawings attracted amazing energy from all ages and created an evening to remember.

Also, many Wing Luke families live at one of several planned mixed income communities nearby that provide new U.S. arrivals a foundation to build on and make Wing Luke’s zip code (98118) the sixth most diverse in the nation. The design team joined a summer festival there to gather perspectives from stakeholders who otherwise could not have accessed the planning process. This concerted approach achieved above average participation and enhanced the community’s trust that the new school truly is for them.

For One and All. Design for equity resonates on both individual and city levels at Wing Luke Elementary. The school’s exceptionally diverse student population, reflecting families speaking 17 different languages, presented educational design challenges as well as intriguing opportunities. In the existing building, teachers had worked hard to organize pedagogical activities that could “reach students where they are,” spanning grades and subjects to ensure no one was left behind. Planning efforts then involved identifying ways to amplify spatial choices to support these academic strategies, along with a wide variety of neuropsychological factors associated with childhood development and personal growth.

Defining Educational Values and Goals. Planning process discussions with the steering committee clarified the design team’s understanding of the school’s practice of and aspirations for pedagogical variety. The previous school’s open plan gave students and groups the flexibility to move throughout the space. Focused lessons taught in small groups across ages, called “Dragon Blocks,” were integral to teaching for equity. However, acoustical challenges seriously impacted ESL students and recent immigrant children.

The design team’s on-site observations over several days established a foundation for detailed planning and investigation of how the learning environment could support social, communal, and educational goals and overcome acoustical issues. Planning sessions included hands-on exercises with the steering committee to improve participants’ grasp of the project’s scale, challenges, and possibilities. Together, we identified the following key design goals:

  • Honor Wing Luke’s legacy of diversity; honor different/multiple cultures.
  • Holistically support teaching for equity
  • Support the communal spirit of Wing Luke.
  • Provide multiple spatial choices to address the needs of all students.
  • Establish a civic presence that enriches the surrounding neighborhood.

The new design supports even greater pedagogical variety, providing openness and transparency and increasing options for teachers and educational specialists to address students’ individual needs. Shared areas of various sizes are placed near classroom neighborhoods and throughout the school, while activities ranging from individual to large group use can take place outside the classrooms or in tandem with in-classroom teaching and learning.

The Influence of Research. Planning process discussions with the steering committee revealed a central spatial organization would best serve the school’s desire for close connectivity across different classrooms, shared break-out spaces, and specialists’ conference rooms. The school’s diverse community, social culture, and pedagogical intentions to teach for equity inspired the design team to research communal human behavior, traditions, and spaces across several continents and cultures. The strong need for communal use was woven into every space type—academic neighborhoods as well as throughout the entire project. The large central courtyard is complemented by smaller, informal “pocket” spaces where introverted students can relax and recharge, or where new students can be close to the action while gaining the confidence to venture into the center.

Reaching All Students Where They Are
Over the past couple of years, Covid regulations put planning strategies for Wing Luke’s flexible spaces to the test. The assistant principal noted that the areas between classrooms worked well for intervention opportunities with specialists. As restrictions eased, they smoothly transitioned to Dragon Block activities serving a variety of groups in smaller zones that did not interrupt each other.Looking ahead, the assistant principal anticipates the classrooms and their shared spaces operating.