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Nysmith School for the Gifted - Private School Tour and Impressions

Nysmith School for the Gifted a tour and discussion with Mr. Ken Nysmith Head of School. Enlightening and wonderful school from an architectural perspective.

  • One of the top schools and I saw why.

  • Mir. Nysmith and staff really care about the kids.

  • School is full of light and everyone seemed happy to be in school.

  • Light, Transparency, Openness and Flexibility are important.

  • Function over aesthetics.

Earlier this week I had a chance to meet Mr. Nysmith who gave me the tour of the Nysmith School for the Gifted which his located in Herndon, Virginia and considered one of the top private schools in the Northern Virginia area teaching kids from preschool through 8th grade.

The atmosphere and staff are very pleasant and friendly. I have experienced greetings by random faculty or parents from parking lot and through the tour. Entry is open and welcoming yet secure without being imposing. The reception space is fairly open with various photos of kids preforming learning activities hanging on the wall. I could immediately tell that staff cares about the kids.

The building is split into three sections separating grades, each of the sections is defined by a color. First two sections are composed of looping corridors and younger student classrooms. Corridors occasionally open up to open classroom areas and cafeterias/playground access. Between the two is the library and on the way to the third is the gymnasium combined with a stage. To me this was an interesting concept combining arts and fitness.

Third section is a newest addition and is further in the back. On the way there is a new gym incorporating a bouldering wall. The addition is somewhat different from the original incorporating more clear story and storefronts allowing for even more open concept. The two story addition looked very contemporary with angles and open central space surrounded by classrooms. Central space contained mingling tables and a lounge area. One issue I noticed was a very low ceiling at the lounging area looked like due to lack of coordination with mechanical requirements by the architect. Overall the 3rd area felt more adult by being more like tech-office/modern college space.

Walking the corridors the design is a bit different from traditional school. Walls are clean gypsum stud rather than prison-like CMU blocks of public schools. Classrooms had windows allowing transparency and light in the corridors. Mr. Nysmith explained that this was intentional to create transparency. Kids and teachers can see activities between classrooms and corridors creating interest by seeing classrooms/activities; possibility of distractions is a worthwhile sacrifice.

Mr. Nysmith mentioned that environment is very important to the education as it can be a learning tool. Light, transparency, openness and flexibility are important. When it comes to design function should come first and foremost and Mr. Nysmith emphasized that aesthetics should come after function because no matter how beautiful the design a school cannot be successful without functionality.

From meeting Mr. Nysmith and walking the school I saw that it is a very successful school; everyone smiling and happy to be there. I could tell that Mr. Nysmith really cares about school and kids, he seemed very involved and is on same level with students/faculty. As we walked he greeted everyone and was giving students high fives. There is no double that much of success of the school belongs to the leadership, faculty and students. Does good design, transparency and light contribute to the success of the school? I certainly do believe so because as we walked I could not help but feel jealous and excited for the students and teachers. Learn more about the school here:

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