Preparing Boys for Life

The Middle School's Next Chapter

By Maarten I. Pesch, AIA, LEED AP, principal and architect at WRT

When I was a young architect, I didn’t immediately think about the long-term impact of my work. I thought first about massing, scale, and building materials. I wanted to make sure I got everything exactly right, and I wanted to design buildings that would impress and delight my clients, peers, and colleagues. Of course, I still consider all these things today (and the many other elements that go into building design), but what I care most about is the impact I can make in the lives of the people who use the buildings. I want what I help create to make people’s lives easier, happier, and more productive – and that’s especially true with a project like The Haverford School’s new Middle School.

front of new middle school


A plan for The Haverford School

My relationship with Haverford began many years ago with the development of the first campus master plan. As my colleagues and I got to know the School, we came to understand just how unique and special Haverford is. In addition to the School’s values, tradition of excellence, and outstanding faculty and staff, Haverford has a relatively compact campus in terms of site area and acreage. This naturally strengthens the sense of community, encourages interaction between the divisions, and results in a strategic sharing of resources.

As we worked on the first campus master plan, my firm recommended a shift towards a more pedestrian-focused campus and a phased approach to enlarging and re-thinking the academic and support spaces. WRT assisted the School as architects and landscape architects for a series of implementation projects over the years, including a new athletics facility, new Lower School, the renovation of the dining and food service areas in Crosman Hall, and several other building upgrades and landscape changes. The most crucial shift, in my mind, was relocating drop-off and pick-up vehicular driveways from the center of campus to the edges. What used to be a traffic circle with cars is now the School’s beautiful open Quad, visible from almost every building on campus. We also consulted on the design for the new Upper School and, most recently, we designed the new Middle School, now under construction.

As outlined in the master plan, the Lower, Middle, and Upper Schools function as nested communities within the larger campus, sharing dining, athletics, and arts facilities while still maintaining their own distinct spaces and character. From a physical campus planning and programming standpoint, this sharing of facilities increases efficiencies while strengthening the sense of community. Appropriately, the campus organization leads students from the Lower School to the Middle School to the Upper School, a natural progression of their growth from boys to men. As such, the Middle School’s location in the center of campus is crucial to the way Haverford functions as a cohesive, connected campus.  

That is why the Board of Trustees made the conscious decision to move students to Virtue Village during construction. This temporary relocation means that Middle School boys can return to their home between the Lower and Upper Schools and near Centennial Hall, Ball Auditorium, and other shared facilities. Razing Crosman Hall and building up from scratch also means that we can deliver a completely new, state-of-the-art academic building ­– something that just wouldn’t have been possible with a renovation.

lobby of new middle school


Welcome to the new Middle School

Slated to open for the start of the 2020 school year, the new Middle School will be a modern, integrated 21st century learning environment. Gone are the days of basement classrooms, crowded hallways, and a building lacking a central gathering space. Instead, the new Middle School will serve as a dramatic gateway to campus with a prominent entrance and a welcoming, light-filled lobby. At 30,000+ square feet, the three-story building is almost double the size of the original Crosman Hall.

The three-story structure is organized around each grade level with spaces that allow for collaboration, creativity, and innovation. The lobby will serve as the heart of the building – an area for informal gatherings and impromptu Middle School assemblies, with a large maker space that supports project-based robotics learning and experimentation. The upper level offers a range of individual and group learning and study options. These spaces are totally new to the Middle School community and flexible to morph and adapt to learning styles and teaching programs over time.

The Commons

We designed what we are calling The Commons to be a double-height lobby, connecting two floors visually – with tiered floors to accommodate informal seating – and display areas for Haverford core virtues, student art, and School announcements. Overhead garage doors separate The Commons and the nearby Maker Space, allowing the spaces to expand or stay separate depending on programming needs. The Commons will allow for student gatherings and more formal announcements, and we anticipate that the whole Middle School community could fit together in the expanded space if needed.  

The Maker Space

Located right off The Commons, the Maker Space focuses on robotics and electronics. It is intentionally very visible from both inside and outside the Middle School, building excitement for this kind of work and encouraging participation. When you walk into The Commons, you will see students working, exploring, building, and interacting – and that’s the kind of energy and activity that reflects the curious mind of the Haverford boy. The visibility of the Maker Space also reinforces Haverford’s belief that learning happens outside the classroom as well as inside the classroom.

The Learning Commons

This space is located right above the Maker Space on the second floor of the building and is also connected to The Commons. Here, students can do homework, small group work, and meet with the learning specialist in her classroom. This is a dedicated space for Middle School students to use as their own, as they like – something they’ve never had before.

maker space in new middle school


The neighborhood model

Because the middle school years are such a crucial point in the development of young men, the new building is organized by grade level to provide three distinct “neighborhoods.” Each floor includes a student pod (with lockers and cubbies) and a collaboration space surrounded by the core classrooms for that grade level (science, math, English, history). The neighborhood model establishes smaller, scaled communities within the Middle School community at large. And as students progress from sixth to eighth grade, they move from the first floor to the second floor to the third.

On each floor, lockers will be installed above a series of large, open cubbies for sports bags and musical instruments in a dedicated area open to the hallways. In our focus group meetings, we heard from students that they needed a place to store their extra-curricular equipment and musical instruments, and teachers told us they needed more storage solutions in their classrooms. Moving all lockers to the hallways, and building in the large cubbies, will address both these concerns. There will also be extra storage closets adjacent to the locker pods to provide storage for lacrosse sticks and other large equipment. That way, the students won’t have to run from class to the gym or auditorium to get their gear on busy days.

In the classrooms themselves, we’ve standardized storage spaces to be consistent and efficient. This system ensures that every teacher in every classroom will have the storage space they need, so supplies won’t take up valuable floor space. Overall, there are more classrooms, and they are larger, more flexible spaces. Outside each classroom is a tack board, so students and teachers can display what they are working on for all to see.

This is the first time the Middle School building has helped support teaching methods at Haverford, and we are eager to see the impact the building organization will have on the lives of Middle School students. We feel strongly that the neighborhood model helps boys in their development at this important time in their lives, fostering a sense of comradery between peers, and strengthening their relationships with the faculty.


Architectural highlights

  • 30,000 square feet 
  • Pursuing LEED Silver certification 
  • Enhanced daylighting 
  • Green roof 
  • More visibility and transparency from classrooms and maker/learning spaces 
  • Energy efficient heating and air conditioning systems 

Sustainable design

  • Daylighting (windows) in all learning and public spaces
  • Energy efficient heating and air-conditioning systems
  • Sustainable (healthy and low-emitting) materials and finishes
  • Green roof, which helps with stormwater management

Building materials

The exterior of the building is primarily composed of red brick to complement the rest of the campus architecture. We introduced slate as a cladding material to connect back to the historic Wilson Hall and add a bit more visual interest. Large, nearly floor-to-ceiling windows provide stunning views from the first and second floors; these “window walls” are made of aluminum and glass.

Wood is used throughout the building to bring warmth and character, and all learning spaces and classrooms have windows – both to the outdoors and into the interior corridors. Daylighting was a crucial consideration in our design, as well as making classroom activity visible from outside and inside the building. The new Middle School will be bright, sunlit, and full of activity.

Landscape design

The focus of the Middle School landscape design is to extend the learning environment outside and create places for students to gather (both formally and informally) outdoors. We have provided more outdoor seating and more intentional social spaces for Middle Schoolers and other boys coming and going from Centennial Hall. Additionally, there will be safe areas to wait for pick-up and a clear pathway to the FORDS Store. We have incorporated pervious paving for storm water management and are following LEED Silver standards in our landscape design process. 

For me, there is perhaps no greater professional satisfaction than watching a student succeed in a space I’ve helped plan and design – and I know that will happen in the new Middle School when it opens on campus in fall 2020. I speak for my colleagues at WRT when I say it’s been a pleasure working with The Haverford School on this building, and we are honored to be a part of the next chapter in the Middle School’s story.

Maarten Pesch at WRT


Maarten I. Pesch has been at WRT for nearly 40 years. Trained as an architect and urban designer, he has focused his practice on planning and designing for campuses. Pesch’s colleagues on the Haverford Middle School project include Richard King, AIA, LEED AP BD+C, John T. Keene, AIA, Amelia Einbender-Lieber, and Misa Hsinyi Chen, PLA, ASLA.