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Partnership with Nadia Islam | Spring 2017 | Professor Vivian Loftness

The Ellis School is an exceptional STEM school for girls in Pittsburgh. This project creates a new and unique building for its campus. The STEAM-Cascade is designed to be used as a teaching tool because hands-on learning is a significant element of the Ellis School curriculum. The main gesture of the building is its terraced gardens that spiral up the building, allowing outdoor learning spaces to be easily accessible from all floors.  Each section of the garden houses a different family of plants that students can tend to and learn from. The gardens continue into the building through the atrium, which doubles as a greenhouse.​

Building as Teaching Tool

Education should be immersive. The STEAM-Cascade teaches through the architecture. The shading systems are modular and can be designed and changed by students. The HVAC system in the building is diagrammed in the hallways and statistics are displayed in the entrance to show students how much energy they are using.

South-East Axo

Greenhouse Atrium

East-West Section

Ellis School Campus

The main parking drop-off has been redesigned into a plaza that connects the lower and upper schools to the STEAM-Cascade via pathways. The plaza is tiled with solar panels and lined with plants to separate pedestrians from cars. Bike racks have also been added to encourage students to bike to school.

Site Plan

Transit Diagrams

Second Floor

Third Floor


Unlike traditional STEM programs, the classrooms of this building are designed to focus on global crises such as water, food, nature, and energy. We designed each classroom uniquely to have the space and equipment necessary for the most immersive teaching environments.

Food Classroom Views

Food Classroom

Maker Classroom

Nature Classroom

Structures and Systems

The building consists mostly of a Cross-Laminated Timber (CLT) structure with a wood panel curtain wall. The CLT is not only a sustainable building material - it is also aesthetically and tactilely pleasing.  The building uses radiant heating that is combined with dedicated outside air systems and heat recovery. A geothermal system helps to make the water-to air-heat pumps more efficient. 

CLT Structure 

Geothermal System 

North Wall Section

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