Case Study Carlin Springs Elementary School

Project Details
Project: Carlin Springs Elementary School
Segment: Education
Location: Arlington, VA
DESIGNER / ARCHITECT: Grimm and Parker

Playful, multi-colored floor portrays theme of one world connected through natural resources.

When students walk down the corridors of Carlin Springs Elementary School, they have to climb mountains and wade through streams. Yet, they never get dirty, nor do they get wet.

The reason: the "mountains" and "streams" are actually playful, multi-colored, custom-designed vinyl floors that help portray an interior design theme of one world connected through natural resources.

Located in Arlington, VA, Carlin Springs Elementary School is a new, 87,000-square-foot facility that houses approximately 600 students. It was designed by Grimm and Parker, a 30-year-old architectural firm with offices in Virginia and Maryland.

Design Theme Inspired by Motto

According to architect and project team leader, John Hill, the design theme for Carlin Springs was inspired by the school’s motto, which is "Making a World of Difference." "After talking with students and faculty, we felt it was important that everyone in the school be conscious of the global aspects of that motto," he explains.

One of the ways the Grimm and Parker design team implemented the theme was to display flags from forty different countries in the school’s main hall to help convey the notion of a global community. The flags correspond to each of the ethnic nationalities represented in the school’s diverse student body.

Then, to communicate the concept of global ecology, the team created a number of custom-designed vinyl floors throughout the school to depict the idea of one world connected through natural resources.

Corridor Floors Highlight World Ecology

To implement this theme, the Grimm and Parker team designed a number of corridor floors to represent mountains. They did so through the use of a series of large interlocking triangles. The floors are designed so that one side of the corridor appears to be blue mountains with white snow caps, while the other side appears to be brown or earthtone mountains with white caps.

They then designed other corridor floors to represent streams of water that flow down from the mountains. To create this visual, the team used a narrow, serpentine strip of blue down the center of a corridor, flanked on one side by brown to represent earth, and green on the other to represent vegetation. All of the "streams" that run through the hallways eventually "flow" into the school’s main hall.

Hill also notes that the concept of world ecology is not limited to the corridors. It is present in the school’s cafeteria as well, which also functions as the school’s performance area. Here, Hill and his team used a combination of five colors in the floor.

A wide curvilinear band of blue representing the ocean runs longitudinally down the center of the cafeteria. Emanating outward from the "ocean" on both sides are bands of light blue representing shallow waters, an earthtone representing sand and the beach, and finally greens representing vegetation and forests.

VCT Chosen for Corridors, Cafeteria

The design team used Imperial Texture vinyl composition tile from Armstrong in all the corridors as well as the cafeteria to create the visuals. Available in 70 colors, Imperial Texture tiles feature a "through-pattern" construction, which means the color and pattern extend throughout the thickness of the tile. This prevents the creation of traffic lanes, and ensures that the tile’s color and design will last the life of the floor.

According to Hill, "The overall effect is terrific. People simply don’t think of it as a vinyl composition tile floor because they don’t expect to see that many curves in a VCT installation. Their expectation is to see straight lines."

In fact, Hill notes that the general contractor was somewhat skeptical that the job could be done well because of its complexity. "To install that many curves in a rectilinear product seemed like it would be difficult. But, as it turned out, it was not as hard as it looked."

CB Flooring of Columbia, Maryland, installed the floor. "There were very few problems," Hill says. "They did a great job of creating and seaming the patterns. In fact, we were so pleased that custom-designed VCT went down so easily, we’ll probably design more projects like this one, now that we’ve done it and it went so well."

School Receiving Plenty of Acclaim

According to Hill, reaction to the floor has been outstanding. "People really like the spirit and life the floor brings to the building," he says. Reaction to the entire facility has been equally as good, to the point where the school is conducting tours of the facility twice a week for local residents, officials from other school districts, and even other architects and designers.

And, the school’s faculty and staff are not the only ones impressed with the new facility. The school has already won two awards for architectural excellence -- one from the Virginia School Boards Association, the other from the Potomac Valley Chapter of the American Institute of Architects. As one AIA juror noted in the verbatims, "This public school facility is one of the best I’ve seen."