Making the Grade: Glazing Stands Out on Virtual Learning Academy

The recently opened Berrien Springs School District’s Virtual Learning Academy in Michigan was designed with an abundance of glazing features, including its storefront system, which helps make it unique. The building’s striking exterior, designed by Edwardsburg, Mich.-based CARMI Design Group, is one indication that this school is different from others in Southwestern Michigan.

According to Tony Leininger, president of CARMI Design Group, his firm was approached by the school board superintendent, with whom they had worked for many years, about creating a virtual learning program in the school district. Leininger says the superintendent had a vision that the virtual program should be connected to something visual and not be something tucked away; they wanted a stand-alone building and wanted the form to relate to what was going on inside.

“So it needed to have a high-tech, edgy look,” says Leininger. “We wanted the building’s form to portray the modern style of learning that occurs within its walls.”

The resulting design features three distinct spaces, sharp angles and generous uses of glass framed in recycled aluminum by Walker, Mich.-based Tubelite’s 14000 and T14650 Series Storefronts. Midwest Glass & Mirror of Stevensville, Mich., was the contract glazier and Wausau, Wis.-based Linetec painted the aluminum in Hartford Green fluoropolymer finish, corresponding with the school’s “Home of the Shamrocks” motto. PPG Industries was the glass supplier.

While the building is only 6,700 square feet, Leininger says material selection helped them achieve the look they were going for.

“The materials helped create the unique geometry of the structure,” he says. Speaking of the entrance system, Leininger points out that it was not orthogonal or perpendicular to the earth. Likewise, the building is single-story and they wanted to be able to stretch the storefront horizontally. In order to achieve the design, Leininger and his team worked collaboratively with Tubelite and the company’s engineers to create the structure. This was important, he says, as it’s the entrance that gives the building its signature look.

“It’s not everyday you have a project come along where the owner wants to create such a signature look,” says Leininger, who adds, “From the beginning we wanted to emulate the feeling of progressing upward … and the entrance helps [to create that effect].”

The $1.8 million Virtual Learning Academy , which offers area students both traditional on-site education and online courses, opened for high school students at the start of the fall semester, September 2010, and now offers enrollment for middle school students.

The Virtual Learning Academy’s edgy architecture has garnered positive reviews from district staff and the community, and has helped the building become the face of the district.

Photos by Joseph Hilliard, courtesy of Tubelite Inc.