Case Study

Lake Highlands High School Vibrant High School Gains a New Heart

Dallas, TX, USA

The Challenge

Lake Highlands High School, like many schools, grew over decades of expansions, renovations, and additions. The organic growth of a school over so many years often leads to less-than-ideal building layouts, disconnections, and spaces that are used in ways never intended. In this case, a new detached school, envisioned as a 9th-grade center, was constructed more than two decades ago and positioned across a fire lane from the high school. Eventually this detached facility was incorporated into the overall high school, with classes supporting all grade levels.

The architecture of Lake Highlands High School not only required students to navigate between these two separate buildings, it facilitated, and in some cases, exacerbated social islands – students self-segregating – potentially leading to anxiety and depression.

The Design Solution

The Richardson Independent School District asked the HKS design team to add 24 classrooms to the high school, providing more enrichment spaces and creating a link between the main high school and the former freshman center. In-depth conversations with community members revealed other obstacles to school unity that wouldn’t be resolved by linking the buildings with a block of classrooms or a corridor.

To make an actual difference in the health and well-being of the students, the design team challenged the district to think differently. Instead of building an additional 24 classrooms flanking a corridor, the team suggested designing a new “heart” for the school; a central hub for students to gather for meals, formal and informal learning opportunities, to study during passing periods, and a place for unplanned interactions and conversations. The hub would also provide the school a needed central community gathering place where students and parents could attend after-school events.

The design team further impacted the student experience by designing choice into the dining program. The school embraced the new direction, providing a variety of table sizes and types, (round tables, high-top tables, booths), and even building a learning stair that doubles as a space for students to informally enjoy lunch while overlooking the hub.

The design solution allows for special moments of relationship building. Multiple scales and styles of space in and around the hub allow impromptu interactions to flourish, or students can find a quiet niche for reflection. Though students may still find their own cliques within the hub, they have many opportunities to cross paths and interact with peers from other social groups.

The Design Impact

The result at Lake Highlands High School is a transformed student culture. The project was completed in August of 2020 and students occupied the space the same month. Multiple interviews with the principal and other faculty members confirm that the hub did exactly what the school board and design team hoped.

One Lake Highland High School staff member offered the following comment about the improved circulation function on the campus:

 “A hectic outdoor corridor has become the heartbeat of the school” the staffer said. “Students all eat together in a single communal space regardless of age, race, or socioeconomic status. Students are noticeably happier, and there are no more fights at lunch. They love it so they take care of it. It’s a perfect example of ownership.”

Project Features

  • 24-classroom addition
  • Cafeteria
  • Multipurpose activity center
  • Library/media center
  • Science and art wing