Buckingham County Primary and Elementary Schools

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    Kitchen Lab. Photo: Alan Karchmer
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    Active monumental stairway. Photo: Tom Daly
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    Classroom with flexible, interactive furniture. Photo: Alan Karchmer
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    Food Lab. Photo: Alan Karchmer.
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    Breakout space. Photo: Alan Karchmer.

Location: Dillwyn, Virginia
Type: Public School
Size: 134,015 SQ FT
Year Completed: 2012
Project Architects: VMDO Architects, P.C.
Research Partners: VMDO Architects, P.C., University of Nebraska Medical Center, University of Virginia School of Medicine

“The Buckingham County Elementary School is inspiring - their incorporation of the Active Design Guidelines and healthy food access has made this school a beautiful, healthy and fun place to learn,” said Christine Johnson.

The inclusion of healthy design features responded to the immediate needs of the Buckingham community as well as the dearth of research focusing on the effect of school design on reducing childhood obesity rates. With a land use pattern dominated by the timber and farming industries, Buckingham offers little access to healthy food and safe places for being active. The architects immediately sought to counteract existing challenges of the rural context by using Active Design strategies in the school’s design.

Collaborative efforts between health professionals, researchers, and designers resulted in the “Healthy Eating Design Guidelines for School Architecture,” published by the Centers for Disease Control.

Active Design Highlights

  • An interior monumental lobby stair connects two important shared common spaces, functioning as a social hub and physical activity feature.
  • Furniture design encourages active postures and seating is designed especially for children’s micro-movement.
  • Fitness and movement opportunities are co-located alongside children’s learning spaces.


  • The design includes 15 acres of on-site recreational space for children, families and the community, offering intergenerational programming, where seniors can garden with grandchildren.
  • The new teaching kitchen and food lab lounge encourage healthy cooking and increases the connection of children to their food source.
  • A new kitchen garden includes a variety of raised bed heights, for use by people of varying abilities and sizes.
  • A “grab-n-go garden” adjacent to the play areas encourages healthy snacking right off the plant.