Duke Ellington School

Washington, District of Columbia

Duke Ellington School of the Arts (DESA) – founded in 1974 – is not only ranked as one of the top DC Public Schools, as a magnet school it is one of the premier high schools in the nation with a focus on the Arts. Its reputation is national and international, but its facilities are woefully inadequate and Ellington now has the opportunity to – in its own words – create a world-class school and center for the arts. DESA occupies the structure originally built 115 years for Western High School in 1898, and has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 2003. This historic structure designed in the Classical Revival style is a grand, but significantly aging and outmoded structure and last underwent a modest modernization 30 years ago. Its condition and space configurations fall far short of Ellington’s unique program and special requirements and the existing area is significantly undersized for Ellington’s current and future needs.

Our “Arts Machine” design seeks to express what goes on inside this vibrant facility, to internally and externally promote awareness and collaboration. The design revolves around the power of this core, the new Duke Ellington Theater that is the heart and soul of the institution, which we have envision as an iconic sculptural form suspended in the middle of a light-filled atrium – the “jewel in the crown” that occupants will constantly be aware of throughout the facility. The walls surrounding this four–story atrium will be transparent, allowing connection and communication between these multi-levels and Ellington’s diverse and interdisciplinary programs. The essential elements of the design are: The Site, the Front Bar, the Back Bar, the Middle Structure, the arrival and orientation.



Department of General Services (DGS)


258,000 SF


$164 Million


Full Architectural Design Services

Key Features:

Historic Preservation/Planning

Swing Space Design

DGS Modified Design-Build

Sustainable Design – LEED Gold Goal

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