John Lewis Elementary School in Washington, DC

John Lewis Elementary School: A Case Study

Washington, DC

A sustainable, high-performance building that in turn breeds excellence in education.

John Lewis Elementary School was designed to be the first school in the District of Columbia to achieve Net Zero Energy (NZE). The project is also the only school in the world to hold Platinum certifications in both LEED for Schools and WELL, setting a new benchmark. Through these approaches, the environment is designed to improve student and teacher performance, health, and well-being as well as reduce the building’s life-cycle costs.

Project Facts

  • Client:

  • DC Department of General Services
  • Size:

  • 90,000 sf
  • Architect:

  • Perkins Eastman DC
  • Associate Architect:

  • Perkins Eastman
  • Sustainability :

  • LEED for Schools Platinum
    WELL v2 Platinum
    Net-Zero Ready
  • Services:

  • Sustainability
  • Markets:

  • K-12 Education
  • Region:

  • United States
  • Studios:

  • Washington, DC


  • 2023 American Architecture Award, The Chicago Athenaeum
  • 2023 Winner: K-12 Education, IIDA MidAtlantic Premiere Design Awards
  • 2023 AIANY Merit Award in Architecture
  • 2022 Best of Year Award for Early Education, Interior Design magazine
  • 2022 Sustainable & Resilient Design Award + Honorable Mention for Excellence in Design, AIA Baltimore
  • 2022 Shortlist: Completed Buildings-Schools and Special Prize-Use of Color, World Architecture Festival
  • 2022 Finalist - Spaces and Places in Innovation by Design Awards, Fast Company magazine
  • 2022 Silver Citation-Common Areas: The American School & University Educational Interiors Showcase Awards
  • 2022 Award of Merit, AIA Education Facility Design Awards
  • 2022 Award in Architecture, AIA|DC Chapter Design Awards
  • Read More


    John Lewis Elementary School 17

    The project’s design principles focus on civic presence, community connectivity, and—most importantly—student experience and wellness to create a high-performance, 21st-century learning environment.

    The new building replaces an obsolete, brutalist, open-plan building, but it intentionally retained its best aspects—flexible space and ease of communication—while providing better adjacencies, daylighting, acoustics, security, and outdoor space to boost wellness and building performance, with the ultimate goal being improved educational outcomes.

    John Lewis Elementary School 7

    The building is surrounded by green space intended to delight and educate, including a amphitheater, pollinator meadow, vegetable gardens, a living classroom, and, of course, playgrounds.

    The design emphasizes outdoor recreation and connections with the natural world, known to improve student health and academic achievement. The landscape design embeds natural systems with dynamic play and learning spaces to blur the walls of the classroom. A treasured place for the community, certain school amenities are accessible after-hours and on weekends.

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    The building reads inside and out as a series of intimate, child-scaled houses that foster collaboration and strong relationships inside and feel at home in the adjacent residential neighborhood.

    John Lewis Elementary School 1

    John Lewis Elementary School 13 John Lewis Elementary School 10

    The school’s “civic presence” features a large photovoltaic array to inspire the entire community to embrace sustainable design.


    John Lewis Elementary School 12

    The school honors its proximity to Rock Creek Park, DC’s largest and most famous park, through interior and exterior textures, materials, and environmental quality. This inspiration is prominently displayed in the library, where discovery zones and reading nooks encourage learning, socialization, and engagement for all students, and a large-scale mural by a beloved local artist is the backdrop to a “treehouse” maker-space.

    John Lewis Elementary School 14

    The cafeteria achieves a similar “treehouse” effect with green baffles in the ceiling and a wall of windows looking out to the leafy neighborhood.

    John Lewis Elementary School 15


    A high-performance dashboard tracks the building’s energy consumption, showcases the building’s sustainability features, and links to the school’s curriculum to address topics such as social and environmental justice, climate change, and water conservation. Through this interactive, online dashboard, students and teachers can continuously discover how they interact with the building, and how the building and campus in turn influence and are influenced by the larger environment.

    John Lewis Elementary School 16

    Pre- and post-occupancy evaluations of the school will complement the students’ ongoing exploration of performance. At its one-year anniversary of the school’s 2021 opening, our interviews for the post-occupancy evaluation will engage students, faculty, and administrators, as well as use on-site measurements to assess the success of the design.

    The building is paired with Benjamin Banneker Academic High School, concurrently designed, which is also targeting NZE. The excess energy expected to be generated at John Lewis will help Banneker also achieve NZE. This multi-site approach broadens the perspective from a single building to the District’s entire inventory, encouraging an approach to radical citywide energy conservation.

    Perkins Eastman DC (PEDC) was the prime architect on this project. Perkins Eastman’s expert sustainability and interior design teams collaborated with PEDC to create this exciting high performance learning environment.