VLK Architects' Allen ISD STEAM Center Wins Six "Stars of Distinction"

Fort Worth, Texas – Each year, the Texas Association of School Administrators (TASA) and Texas Association of School Boards (TASB) showcase new and renovated Texas schools by celebrating excellence in planning and design of the learning environment through the Exhibit of School Architecture. Projects are reviewed by a 12-member jury who may award “Stars of Distinction” in the categories of Community, Design, Planning, Sustainability, Value, and School Transformation. This year, VLK Architects’ Allen ISD STEAM Center was the only project that received all six “Stars of Distinction.”

“We are incredibly gratified to win all six ‘Stars of Distinction’ from TASA/TASB for the Allen ISD STEAM Center,” said Sloan Harris, CEO | Partner, VLK Architects. “It’s a testament to the vision and determination Allen ISD’s leadership and administration had to deliver what is truly a one-of-a-kind campus for its students and community. Partnering with a client on this kind of project is what every architect strives for and we are grateful to be a part of it.”

In order to fully comprehend the instructional intent of the facility, VLK | CURATION® was employed. Together with the district, VLK discussed learning aspirations and visited STEM schools in other parts of the country. They also visited and studied other educational environments such as the learning studios in the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History, the Perot Museum in Dallas, and the Dallas Arboretum. “Given the innovative programs and curriculum to be delivered at the Allen STEAM Center, we wanted to inform the design with novel learning environments that you don’t see in a normal school, but may in other places like a children’s museum,” says Harris. The experiences from VLK | CURATION® then informed VLK | LAUNCH®, involving students, teachers, administrators, community/business leaders, and Board Members. The VLK | LAUNCH® process facilitated the responsive conceptual design of the Allen ISD STEAM Center based on the beliefs of all involved.

The two-story, 111,000 square foot, arc-shaped building was designed so that the high school STEAM area and K-8 experience spaces overlap and are interconnected. This creates a shared learning environment that includes learning hubs, subject-specific studios, and plenty of room for exploration and collaboration. The 250-seat Ellipse Theater supports large groups and provides a venue for younger students to be oriented to the STEAM Center upon arrival, as well as serving a variety of instructional purposes. The lobby of the Ellipse Theater features an OmniGlobe Spherical Display. The STEAM Center is integrated into the site through a rich outdoor setting, providing learning trails, and ecological zones for exploration. Outdoor learning spaces include a wetlands zone, various forest zones, a black land prairie, and a wildflower meadow that are accessible from indoor studios and collaboration spaces.

This campus aims to expand student interests and future workforce needs in STEAM-related areas. STEAM Center courses are designed to instill future-ready skills including collaboration, creativity, critical thinking, communication, and project management within its students. Opportunities for problem- and project-based learning, as well as interdisciplinary learning, are encouraged.