The magnificent landscape of New Mexico profoundly affected Georgia O’Keeffe and transformed her work into an appreciation of what she believed “belonged” to her. It is this overwhelming notion of belonging that allowed her to evolve as an artist and it is the backbone for the design of this school which bears her name. The school is meant, not as a monument, but as a vehicle to extract and distill the principles and phenomena of this place, New Mexico, for which O’Keeffe became intensely aware and subsequently exposed to the world. It is meant to instill within every student a spirit of limitless growth potential by providing a richly pedagogical, nurturing, and protected environment from which to thrive.


The school is arranged in a U-shape on an east-west axis with arms that reach out toward the existing playground/park and embrace the Courtyard. Views reconnect the seemingly introverted plan with the Sandia Mountains to the east and the volcanoes and Rio Grande River valley to the west. The materials are muted neutral colors allowing the building to reflect the seasonal qualities of the sky and are juxtaposed against dark metal skin bringing physical form to the notion of shadow. Color is dynamic being both bold and subtle with brightly colored ceiling planes refracting diffuse light onto adjacent surfaces.

Elements that connect users to nature and natural processes are featured prominently throughout the design. Water collection is celebrated in the form of vertical steel cisterns, emphasizing concepts of reuse and conservation. The primacy of this precious resource is evoked again in the form of a water-tube trombe wall, which forms a backdrop for the cafeteria stage and helps to offset winter heating. The main stair, known as the “happy stair” to students, was constructed from toilet partitions for cost savings and durability.

Albuquerque, NM

80,000 SF

Elementary School

Jon Anderson, FAIA

Project Manager:
Mark Harvold, AIA

General Contractor:
Schumate Constructors

Kirk Gittings

2015 Jeff Harnar Award for Contemporary Architecture
2012 Jeff Harnar Award for Contemporary Architecture - Honorable Mention
2011 AIA New Mexico Citation of Merit Award
2011 AIA Albuquerque Design Merit Award
LEED for Schools Certified Silver