This charter high school houses 500 students in Silver Lake, a multi-cultural community adjacent to downtown Los Angeles. It is the third project, in a series of four that the firm has designed for the charter school client. The schools were launched by a nonprofit community development corporation to provide small, focused schools for children in a dense and underserved urban Los Angeles neighborhood. In 2000 and 2003 the office completed an elementary and a middle school on a single block campus in MacArthur Park.
In 2004, the development corporation acquired this lengthy site, bounded by busy streets and in the shadow of the Hollywood Freeway and the design process began immediately to meet budget and schedule goals. Because of the intense urban condition it was crucial to recover pieces of urban space and create an educational haven without isolating the school from the neighborhood. In the process of developing a form for the 30,000 square foot, 18 classroom building and keeping within the budget we created a pair of two story structures that meet at the prow of the site. A long, winding classroom building buffers the social spaces from Silverlake Boulevard and a shorter building containing all the administrative offices and media rooms anchors the primary pedestrian entrance.
By single-loading the main classroom building two important social and sustainable functions were accomplished with simple solutions: direct visual connections are established between the classrooms and the inner courtyard and natural light flows into each classroom from both the windows on the street side and courtyard side. This courtyard has become the hub of the school; large pivot doors from the art rooms open directly onto the yard for large-scale art projects and often the entire courtyard is filled with bi-monthly all-school meetings. The street edge of both the classroom building and administration wing is clad in a perforated corrugated metal to dampen sound and provide sun control. At the prow of the building an outdoor amphitheater rises above a covered entrance where students can wait for pick up.
It was important to recognize the high school as both a part of the entire charter school program and as separate from the lower school buildings. In order to create a social and institutional transformation stewardship of the building and campus was emphasized for the students from the outset through elements like well-lit classrooms, spaces for informal exchange, and indoor and outdoor transparency.
The school is intended, because of its physical and social context, to function as a protected oasis while simultaneously allowing enough transparency to reflect the aspirations and achievements of the program to the surrounding community.