Unique Site Results in Exceptional School

May 14, 2012

EVO February 2012

Innovative school designed to maximize learning and environmental responsibility

Saperstein Middle School, Stephen Wise Temple, Los Angeles

This 240 student middle school sits on a rugged shelf, carved out of a hillside above the Sepulveda Tunnel in the hills above West Los Angeles. Situated on the Scenic Mulholland Corridor, all the roofs of the building had to sit below the street to protect views and strict sightline restrictions. The sloping site is extremely long and narrow, with a steep hillside to the east and a precipitous drop with maximum sun exposure to the west. The design solution consists of two parallel, single loaded classroom buildings flanking a series of linear outdoor courtyards that act as a village street. Each wing curves with the contours of the hillside while the floor plates follow the regarded slope. The continuous roof angle of the interconnected buildings parallels the slope of Mulholland Drive.

The buildings are interconnected with breezeways and projecting canopies, resulting in a highly modulated space with conditions ranging between bright sunlight and deep shadow. The ground plane steps with the topography and each vertical transition becomes an opportunity for outdoor seating, special planting and even fountains. Textures of walls and pavement vary from ‘high tech’ at the south entry plaza adjacent the administration building to a more rustic and rugged treatment at the north end adjacent the amphitheater and climbing wall. The overhangs are punctuated with deep multiple north-south slots capped with skylights. The resulting spaces, both functional and inviting during the day, become engaging and animated spaces at night. The new school is a “fun place that students can relate to,” with a 35-foot climbing rock wall and a large community room that opens to a plaza with tables. Sayings from Jewish texts are etched onto the walls throughout campus to provide inspiration for staff and students. The learning environment is at once dynamic, intimate and personal.

Integration of technology throughout the learning environment
The education program includes eleven 750-square-foot classrooms, a technology/media lab, art center, student cafeteria and a Beit Midrash. Each classroom has a small resource library, and state-of-the-art technology. Project rooms complete with Whiteboards, computers and flexible furniture connect classrooms and provide a professional setting for student collaboration. Smart board technology and plasma screens connect students through video conferencing to parallel classrooms in Israel to provide distance-learning experiences. Within each classroom, individual wireless laptops are stored on self-charging carts and are available during classes.

An environmentally responsible design
The school has been designed according to sustainable principles. The large roof area, visible from above, was designed according to cool roof principals with a light seamless membrane surface. Classrooms have been designed with two exposures for cross ventilation. Balanced, glare-free natural light has been provided through skylights, roof monitors, angled windows, light shelves and sunshades. Materials from carpeting to artificial stone and cement fiberboard have been chosen for their high recycled content and low VOCs. The site has been developed with water conservation in mind. Landscape employs drought resistant planting; site run-off is held in a detention cistern below the turning circle.

An innovative learning environment
Evidence based research shows that students learn better in settings with balanced natural light. The unique site geometry required a nuanced response to achieve this. Since the classrooms are single loaded with two exposures, each has the potential for natural cross ventilation and daylight from multiple directions. The classrooms have lower view windows with deep overhangs facing the inner street; the overhangs also act as light shelves to bounce light into the high ceilinged spaces beyond. The opposite walls also have windows with views out to the landscape. A third source of natural light comes from a roof monitor in an adjacent space. The west facing classrooms with a potentially harsh and hard to control exposure have projecting, angled bay windows that orient the glazed areas to the north. Terraces adjacent to the classrooms provide an outdoor extension of the learning spaces. A key goal of this project was to create an intimate atmosphere for the interaction of students and teachers, but also provide an open environment that is integrated with the surrounding landscape. This new environment complements the school’s curriculum and helps to engage sudents during a critical time in their lives.

TAGS: pre k-12 education,