Arlington Public Schools, The Heights Building

Arlington, VA

The Heights Building expands and relocates two county-wide secondary programs (grades 6-12) into a single, five-story vertical building to support 775 seats. Located within the dense, urban Rosslyn-Ballston corridor of Arlington, Virginia, the school is designed to both fit into its context while converging as much open green space for recreation as possible.

LEO A DALY, executive architect, and BIG (Bjarke Ingels Group), design architect, are teamed to create this unique public school for Arlington Public Schools (APS).

While the building’s mass responds to its urban context with a vertical organization (and the efficiencies afforded by that), its interior presents a different feel. For APS it was critical for students to perceive their school as a familiar, comfortable and connected community. A community where students and faculty are constantly mingling and are integrated into all of the aspects of school life. To achieve that goal, the building is designed as a series of classroom bars rotated along a single hinge point. The rotation creates cascading green terraces leading from the educational spaces of the school to the athletic field. Beneath the rotated classroom bars is a series of large public levels with varying ceiling heights. The large and public functions of the building, including auditorium and gymnasium, are placed on these levels and accessible from the main street front along Wilson Boulevard. The project is being executed in two phases:

Phase I—Visioning, Feasibility and Planning Study The team developed and completed a visioning, feasibility and planning study. Extensive community involvement—a total of 12 twelve meetings over a four-month time frame—included participation by the Western Rosslyn Area Planning Study, the design specific building committee, the School Board and Arlington Public Schools (APS). Throughout the process, the design team’s goal was to develop a state-of-the-art education facility that responds to neighborhood dynamics and the existing context, while being environmentally friendly and on budget. Together with APS, the design team has been active in all community outreach efforts and worked to create an open and transparent process.

Phase II—Design Understanding that the site requires Wilson to be a vertical school, the team worked to develop a design to meet the main goals of providing a central space that connects the building levels and of providing access to outdoor spaces at all levels. The design team developed a series of schemes that were narrowed to a preferred scheme that creates separate classroom blocks adjacent to terraces, which provide unique activities corresponding to their adjacent program. The terraces give the urban school a one-story feel that otherwise would not be possible. An expansive ground floor— where large and public functions are placed— features varying ceiling heights according to the rotated classroom bars above. Community access to these major spaces will be available from the public entrance on Wilson Boulevard. Extensive community outreach was also integral to this design phase.


Arlington Public Schools

At a glance

Five-story building
Supports 775 seats
Green space


Cascading green terraces
Educational spaces
Athletic field


Executive Architect