Phelps Science Center

This well-known private preparatory school uses a teaching method focused on the "Harkness Table," a 7' x 11' oval table that seats 12 students and a teacher who present and discuss their work in a participatory format. The program for this new science center was to adapt the Harkness method of teaching to the science curriculum.

The architects were asked to rethink typical educational laboratory design to accommodate this pedagogical approach.


Phillips Exeter Academy

Location Exeter, NH
Size 81,500 Sq. Ft.
Program laboratories, classrooms, social spaces, auditorium, multi-purpose room
Year Completed 2001
Photo Credit Jeff Goldberg/Esto

The architects used a series of design workshops that included faculty, students, administration, trustees, local residents, and village officials to include the academic community in the design process. The workshops led to a design that includes the best ideas of more than seventy interested participants. To test the workability and verify this unique design, a prototype classroom was built in the existing science building and tested by various classes for more than a year.

The architectural character of the building fits comfortably in a handsome New England campus that has evolved over more than 200 years. The east facade holds the street line while to the south and west it forms an outdoor classroom and wetland teaching garden with adjacent buildings.

Principal subjects taught in the Phelps Science Center are chemistry, physics, biology, multi-science, and computer science. The classrooms of each discipline surround a common lab where two or more classes can participate in experiments. Full-height glass partitions at common labs invite passersby to take a look at science as it unfolds.

The skylit atrium lobby contains the central stairs, a seawater aquarium, the skeleton of a humpback whale recovered by teachers and students from a beach in Maine, and a student lounge. It is used as a gathering and exhibit space, as well as to accommodate specific physics experiments.

The building contains Grainger Auditorium, a multipurpose flat-floor room, which can be divided into two separate spaces. The auditorium can accommodate 250 to 300 people depending on the configuration of seating. Movable platforms supporting tables wired with power and data allow for teaching seminars.

The building is fully wired for electronic communication. Meeting and conference rooms have high-resolution video projectors and tele-conferencing/distance-learning capability. Each classroom is multi-media equipped and capable of displaying to a screen from a ceiling mounted video projector via wireless keyboard or radio frequency control panel. Any classroom computer that is logged into the network is able to display its screen via the classroom computer and video projector.



  • Honor Award for Excellence in Architecture, AIA New Hampshire
  • Crow Island Citation, Interiors Award, American School & University