Northern High School Project NEXT

  • area / size 37,000 sqft
  • Completed 2022
  • GMB Architecture + Engineering completed the Northern High School Project NEXT as a dynamic and creative learning environment in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

    Forest Hills Northern (FHN) High School took a bold step to offer their students a new way of learning through a project-based program called Project NEXT. As part of the school’s $130 million bond, a 37,000 SF renovation was planned for Project NEXT to better serve the needs of the students, instructors, and school.

    Project NEXT is a 4-year parallel path program of study that was driven by the school and teachers’ visions to provide students with hands-on and collaborative ways of learning. Supporting a program that prepares students for life through soft skills like communication, teamwork, public speaking, and independent thought was central to the design. The spaces are intended to be multipurpose, flexible, and connected to achieve the program’s vision.

    Students in the program must identify and propose solutions to real-world problems, so spaces that fuel collaboration and creativity were essential. Redesigning the school’s west wing to accommodate those needs started with converting a courtyard into a central learning commons. Small clerestory windows on the south end of the commons help make the building more sustainable by minimizing heat gain while larger clerestory windows on the north end help maximize natural light. Next to the commons, each grade level has its own classroom pod of four classrooms and a breakout space. A large white board with a bench at the end of each pod enclave acts as an additional extension of a classroom. The pods can be interconnected for collaboration and co-teaching as needed.

    On the western edge, a new wood shop and art space tie back to the mission statement of the program and reinforce the importance of project-based, hands-on learning. One of the goals of project-based learning is to create cross pollination between disciplines and build cohesion between curriculums in art, science, and beyond. Labs were also added for culinary arts, chemistry, biology, and other life skills in the renovated space.

    The commons area that connects the classroom pods was thoughtfully designed with clear sight lines and windows looking into the space from classrooms for improved natural light. The commons creates intentional space for multiple learning opportunities with three dividing walls that define and anchor the purpose of each space. The spaces include a dedicated presentation area, an extension of a classroom set up for technology/computer lab overflow and a lounge area that evokes a community coffee shop feel.

    Design: GMB Architecture + Engineering
    Construction Manager: Owen-Ames-Kimball Co.
    Photography: John D’Angelo