The Redefined Urban High School

Evaluating Educational Needs and Benefits Within an Urban Typology

Driven by both dwindling resources and needs to address 21st Century educational needs, high school education is being revolutionized by a new architectural typology: The redefined Urban High School.

Declining tax revenues, dwindling land resources, life cycle costs, and nationwide efforts to enhance the sustainability of our public infrastructure, is forcing school district to rethink how future educational facilities will address those issues. Equally important, a need to compete in a global economy emphasizes the need to provide a 21st century education to our students, forcing educators to reconsider how, where, and when education occurs.

The redefined Urban High school model addresses these issues by providing an environment based on interdependency. By locating education in the city realm, schools can benefit from the already existing resources – public libraries, sport arenas, public infrastructure, and so on - while the city can take advantage of the resources that a high school building can provide to the city – after hours community events facilities, parking, evening distance learning classrooms for community colleges, gymnasium facilities, performance auditorium facilities, etc..

Typology The student and the school become embedded in the network of the city. All participants become emotionally, economically, ecologically and or morally “interdependent.” The interconnectedness and the reliance on one another socially, intellectually, and politically, foster the growth of the community, the school, the teachers, and students alike.

Providing access to multiple professionals, public institutions, infrastructure, and a wealth of urban resources, an infill high rise school has the capability to transform student’s lives in a unique way: by instilling citizenship and demonstrating the relevance of their education to real life. A revolution in education would be achieved by allowing for a culture of mentorship, and a redefinition of an architectural typology that allows flexibility, versatility, and adaptability within the learning environment. A mix of spaces responding to student assemblage will respond to the five stages of learning:

Think – is based on the concept that learning also occurs at the individual level. Small intimate spaces allow for the time and environment to analyze and investigate.

Create – focuses on teamwork learning. These spaces can be arranged in multiple configurations allowing for flexibility of engagement and multiplicity of programming, as well as interactive learning in small to medium size groups.

Discover – this ‘workshop’ environment sets up for testing, hands-on, and exploration, which allow for larger group meetings where equipment is necessary.

Impart – is rendered more as a typical classrooms. These spaces accommodate larger group gatherings, but feature break-out zones for smaller team areas and operable partitions to combine two classrooms for very large gatherings.

Exchange – is inspired by the potential of social learning. Paralleling that of academic learning, this space becomes communal space, an environment shared between students, guests, and citizens alike. Rendered as a vertical space, this dynamic space unites all learning academies.

Stages of Learning This educational model, based on immersion, is dedicated to inspiring students to enjoy learning while motivating them to become a part of the greater community, both locally, and globally. The academy-based curriculum, enriched by an extensive mentoring program and professional partnerships, is organized around central educational and professional themes, in this case, four academies that respond to four strong industries in uptown Charlotte, NC:

  • Law/Government / Justice
  • Education
  • Financial
  • Cultural / Community

This revolution in education, along with the redefined Urban High School typology, begins dissolving the boundaries between the urban landscape and the learning environment. Here, in the physical expression of the building, the contextual dialectic relationship between the student and his/her community is activated.

Sections The vertical structure is sectionally-developed. Rendered as a transparent box at the street level, it encourages interaction of the school environment with the city, as well as allowing easy sharing of the school resources with the city. This level also explores the potential for the building to have leased retail areas at ground level, reinforcing the pedestrian edges of the city and the importance of commerce to the rebirth of American urbanity.

The second and third levels of the school explore the potential to include programmatic roof areas for outdoor play / social space as well as food zones and administrative / lease space. The tower’s structural and curtain wall grids allow the architecture to be developed as a high rise office building, supporting the program to be developed as a school today, while providing adaptability for other uses in the future.

Interior Rendering Learning academies, occupying the rest of the structure, are all knitted together by the atrium, which encourages social engagement in the horizontal and vertical dimensions.

The top level of the redefined Urban High school model provides two unique spaces: the first, the multimedia exchange, a creative extension that supports the content-creation, technology-driven resource for the school; and the second, a public green roof captivating vistas of the neighboring urban environment, providing a visual connection to the interdependent relationship with the city.