Enumclaw High School

Project Overview

Renew, Reflect, Relate – The Reshaping of Enumclaw High School

Washington’s small towns too often lose a sense of cohesion as they expand and grow over time. Limited resources and lack of planning can lead to disjointed communities and uninspired architecture. The Enumclaw School District recognized an opportunity to alter this trend with the expansion of their high school. Through thoughtful collaboration between the District, community, the architect and our landscape architecture firm, a plan developed around the idea of reorienting the high school towards Mt Rainier (Tahoma), a looming presence to the southeast. This simple yet powerful decision guided subsequent ones, each relating to this borrowed landscape element, strengthening the campus’s bond to its region, town and ecosystem. A central feature of the design is a modern courtyard aimed directly at the mountain’s impressive silhouette. Hard lines of seating, pathways, and decking continually lead the eye to Mt Rainer’s (Tahoma’s) peak. Soft lines of stone and vegetation reflect the lower montane forest of the mountain’s base. With limited budget but purposeful intent, the design team revived a jumbled layout, giving the community an inspired sense of place and renewed identity.


Enumclaw, WA


Enumclaw School District

Design Partner

NAC Architecture


2021 Washington Association of Landscape Architects Honor Award – Public Ownership; 2021 Grand Prize, Learning By Design

A Parti Pris in Action

Enumclaw High School is located in a town of roughly 11,000 people, surrounded by expansive agricultural and lying at the foothills of Mt. Rainer (Tahoma). The existing high school campus included a main building that was intended to be preserved and added onto, and an extensive series of portables that required students to walk outside under dated covered walkways to travel between classrooms. The configuration was not exactly conducive to the type of institution meant to serve as a major civic center and point of pride in a smaller American town.

The angled addition, taking the place of these portables, consisted of two academic wings flanking a large outdoor student commons and a new main entrance on the west side. Our firm led the design team in orienting the wings and courtyard directly toward Mt. Rainer (Tahoma). This simple but profound gesture gave all subsequent design developments an additional and deeper sense of purpose – a parti pris in action. The shift simultaneously centers the wider environment and mountains and the school itself within this landscape – a grounding push and pull that’s difficult to ignore when the clouds allow it.

We worked with the architect to maximize views into the courtyard from the academic wings, reminding students that the outdoor space is an integral part of the school and can be used as an extension of the classroom environment.

Layered Materiality / Connections to Nature

The outdoor student commons was designed to feel open yet secure, with a decorative steel fence and laser-cut gate holding the space from the south while allowing views to the stormwater pond. Benches, picnic tables and a long and a wide wood-topped seatwall provide multiple options for lunchtime socializing in large and small groups. A central open lawn allows for impromptu performances and games. The raised planters with Honey Locust canopies extend the seating combinations to allow for a wide variety of student interaction and respite.

As a counterpoint to the courtyard’s layered materiality, our concept positioned a stormwater bioretention pond as both a foil and a major focal element. It also serves a naturalistic foreground to the view of Mt. Rainier (Tahoma). The 89,000 cubic foot feature collects water from the courtyard’s oversized concrete runnels, though a series of cobble river beds that flank the courtyard, set amongst loose and playful plantings. The pond drains 1.6 acres of roof and courtyard area. The pond itself, as well as rain gardens in the adjacent bus loop and student drop-off loop were planted with native shrubs, reeds and sedges that speak to the nearby intact wildlands. To bring these two spaces together, we intersected the pond with a wide planked overlook deck that pulls the geometry out from the courtyard. The connection is felt for users in both spaces, while the overlook feels like the culmination of the courtyard and creates vantage within a relatively flat site.

Perhaps most importantly, the pond and its overlook draw students in much the same way that the pond draws water from the courtyard and the courtyard from the building. This synchronicity ensures students take notice of the runnels, the cobble creek beds, their directionality and the pond and turns a potentially mundane code requirement into an educational example of green infrastructure. What could have easily been a fenced-in detention pond was shallowed and stretched to the precise slope and depth to avoid fencing and to incorporate into the site design. This took buy-off from the School District as well as close collaboration with the civil engineers. That this is all occurring under the watch of snow-covered Mt. Rainier (Tahoma) is hopefully another layer of which students might take note, considering things as broad as precipitation and as meaningful as stewardship of our local resources.

An Inviting Entrance

The adjacent bus-loop and its interior rain garden unite the site with a new student entrance. We designed an entry plaza fronted by broad steps that are equally inviting for sitting and banded horizontal planting masses that soften the plaza’s longitudinal aspect. In repeating the banding found in parts of the courtyard and playing off the building’s angles, the design team managed to marry the separate spaces without pulling focus from the courtyard and its vista. An adjacent open lawn is reserved for future building plans.

The design process for Enumclaw was fast and efficient. With major budget constraints typical for a smaller community, we identified achievable design moves that would maximize pay-off and which would redirect the design team in its approach.

New Vistas

With new vistas toward Mt. Rainer, opportunities for outdoor learning and legible stormwater infrastructure paired with viable habitat for birds and insects, Enumclaw High School’s addition is an upgrade they can be proud of and one that did not break the School District’s budget. These types of high-value, low-cost solutions are important when designing for communities that lack major resources, and essential for showing the potential of landscape architecture to improve and shape rural communities.

By shifting the orientation of the building to Mt. Rainer (Tahoma), we refocused the design process to the landscape. The architecture now directly speaks to the surrounding environment and prompts student in the same way. Through this, the team has successfully shifted the students’ focus from the interior outward to consider their place on the campus and their campus’s place within their regional landscape. Setting up this relationship between students and place is an important first step in cultivating environmentally conscious and curious minds that will become our future environmental leaders.