At the heart of Gottesman RTW Academy is an intimate understanding of how educators and the community infuse learning, nature, and community with faith. The school, a triumphant celebration of its members and culture at the highest peak of the hill, is an expert integration of natural surrounds with complex site, materials, program, space, and technology design choices - a year-round celebration of Earth Day initiatives.
Sparked by imagination and responsive to opportunities within the natural environment, Gottesman RTW Academy evokes a harmonious dialogue between people and land:
- 75% of the school’s power originates from rooftop solar panels—this is directly incorporated into the learning process, with a readout panel permanently mounted outside the science room, allowing students to track progress.
- Several large boulders were uncovered on the site during excavation—subsequently cleaned and reused for landscaping at the front of the school. The selection of existing boulders over more traditional bollards enhance the school’s relationship to the site, with the added benefit of a passive security measure to protect the building and envelop it in nature.
- The new parking lots are strung like the beads on a necklace along the looping entry drive. Greenspace in the center of the loops acts as a raingarden, cleaning the water before it runs off, respecting the high standards of the highlands and neighboring districts attention to water flow.
The Judaic concept of “tikkun olam”, repairing the world, is expressed in the project’s approach to the methods in which students learn about the natural cycle from planting, to harvest, to cooking and composting:
- The farm-to-table experience begins with an aromatic garden for growing vegetables and traditional ceremonial herbs. An outdoor classroom in its own right, the garden area is where the seeds of intentional and thoughtful learning about the cultural relationship to both land and food is cultivated.
- Near the kitchens and garden is a compost area where students can participate in the process of breaking down organic matter into humus that can be remixed into the garden soil.
Respect and resonance of the immediate surrounds shaped the final design; the natural environment is the building’s parti, its highest expression:
- The building’s wings are masterfully arranged to resemble the surrounding glacially carved rock masses, tucked gracefully into an existing stand of birch trees.
- The massing is organized around four “boulder” cores—classrooms and daycare—and the airy, transparent “woods” that make up community spaces—kitchen, art studio, dining room, and atrium.
- The sanctuary, at the front of the building, opens onto an expansive view of the woods below, yet remains protected, with wooden slats filtering the light in an aesthetic that evokes light sifting through leaves.
- The building plan was shifted inch by inch to preserve existing trees—the half-dozen that couldn’t be built around were relocated and replanted as important features of the landscape. The design further includes plants sacred to the Jewish faith, such as fig trees.
A methodical design process transformed the site into a responsive, responsible home away from home to cultivate student learning, family enrichment, community connections, and faith. The Gottesman RTW Academy of Morris County both translates and emulates its environs—built on bedrock, a tough and unrelenting material formed by nature thousands of years ago, and surrounded by birch trees swaying in the wind, bending but rarely breaking. This place, designed through collaborative partnership, imaginative thinking, and insightful touches, realizes a perfect elevation for the Gottesman RTW Academy and its mission to its students and the world.
For more on the school and its sustainable initiatives: