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A sunny disposition: LA High School

It’s not often that we cover international projects on Indesign. This brand new high school in South Central Los Angeles, designed by Brooks + Scarpa, presents a colourful statement worth looking at.

Located in one of the toughest areas in South Central Los Angeles, this new public high school for 630 students is visually open but entirely secured.

The school is situated in a low socio-economic area, with 25 per cent of the surrounding population living below the poverty line. A robust public school is a necessity and following a fire in 2014, which destroyed half the campus, this became ever more the case.

The new building contains eleven classrooms, two science labs, faculty lounge, new administrative and counselling offices and public courtyard space for student gatherings and activities.

South Los Angeles High is known for its collaboration and strong community connection, with the final building creating a flexible teaching environment. Key to the outcome was offering ample parental involvement and placing student life at the centre of the school.

Designed on an extremely limited budget and aggressive schedule, simple cost-effective gestures were deployed in the use of cladding, fenestration, colour and transparency to create a memorable sense of richness, providing a bright moment in an extremely tough inner-city community.

Safety and security were paramount in the design of the school, which is achieved by the integration of a 20-foot high, bullet resistant metal wall that encloses the site. By bringing a soft perforation into what could have been an ominous requirement, light is instead able to filter into the courtyards. Off these courtyards sit the classrooms, which also benefit from an aspect to the outside, while remaining protected within the school’s perimeter.

This arrangement of courtyard design allows the building to breathe fresh air and daylight while providing a safe and secure environment for learning and social engagement. The building’s transparency and subsequent light-filled halls help to create an open and healthy learning environment for the students.

The building form and central courtyard are formed by a series of necessary clearances around an old oil well, which was abandoned in the late 1970s. In addition, a series of power line and utility easements, height restrictions and zone changes running through the site added to its constraints on the form and size of its maximum building envelope.

The perforated anodized aluminium façade panels create an ever-changing screen that sparkles in the sun and glows at night, while simultaneously providing shade to cool the building, reducing noise, enhancing privacy, and still allowing for views, great natural light and ventilation to pass through. The material reappears as a strategic arrangement of screens around the building, lending a subtle rhythm to the exterior circulation.

Its unique architectural form and integrated function create a high-performing building that is an expression of the people who inhabit the space and the environmental and cultural context in which it is built.

When compared to Australian-designed schools, South Los Angeles High puts a much-needed focus on the protective nature of the external structure. The interiors are left simple, with durable finishes such as polished concrete and white painted walls.

In Australia, it would be more common to find built-in furniture solutions, but the practical expression of form in the structure of South Los Angeles High makes up for the more sparse interior teaching environments.

Project team:
Lawrence Scarpa, FAIA, Principal-in-Charge
Angela Brooks, FAIA
Jeff Huber, AIA
Chinh Nguyen, Project Manager
Diane Thepkhounphithack, Micaela Danko, Eleftheria Stavridi, Arty Vartanyan, Fui Srivikorn, Project Team

Franco + Associates (Associate Architect)
Arthur Fernandez Principal-in-Charge
Michele Stanghetti, Project Manager

Landscape Design: Brooks + Scarpa
Landscape Architect: Wynne Landscape Design
Engineering: B&B Associates Inc. (Structural), Hyle Engineering (Mechanical and Plumbing), Geotechnologies Inc. (Geotechnical Engineering), Kipust Engineering (Electrical)
Environmental Engineering: Environmental Audit Inc. and Placeworks
Construction: Blackwell Construction, Inc.

Check out what Lyons did for Newcastle University here

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