Client Challenge

Creating Community

Towers Are Isolating, so Build a Crossroads

Creating Community

Foresight, vision, and a strong sense of stewardship have become hallmarks of this school’s success since its founding in 1912. These themes continue to provide important touchstones to its current strategic planning process. As part of this examination, the Board of Trustees engaged Blanchard Group to prepare a comprehensive campus master plan.

Towers can be isolating. Just ask Rapunzel.

With a mission that puts community at its heart, this urban school provides its 1,000 plus students with a full complement of programs, all on an 11-acre campus. As you might expect, a site this tight requires building up rather than out. Consequently, buildings serving the Middle and Upper schools are largely three to four stories. One challenge? Towers can be isolating. Just ask Rapunzel.

So, how exactly was the vertical organization isolating? To answer this question, the planning performed ethnographic research, including observing how the members of the campus community go about their day. It became clear that after stopping off at their ground floor lockers in the morning, students spent the remainder of their day isolated on a particular upper floor, only coming together again for lunch. They had narrow academic and social circles and were stratified largely by grade level, with little sense of divisional, much less institutional, identity. This sentiment was echoed by faculty and staff as well, and evidenced by their introductions to one another at focus group meetings.

This understanding led to an important concept — creating a place to draw the community together and connecting it to the places they already occupied. On a campus with limited open building opportunities, the solution was to infill the unused courtyard that was surrounded by the academic buildings. Centrally located, this glass-roofed atrium would provide an important all-school program—an academic commons to replace the school’s aging library, a small, off-the-beaten-path repository of books. The academic commons serves as both an intersection connecting all floors, grade levels, and academic disciplines, and as a magnet that draws the community every day in scheduled and unscheduled ways — climbing Rapunzel’s braid not required.

About the Author(s)

Blanchard Group is a nationally recognized architectural firm. The singular focus of our practice is campus planning for independent educational institutions — helping our clients create rich, vital, and enduring places.

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