L. T. Cunningham Elementary School
A new school has replaced the 60-year-old Cunningham Elementary School, located at a busy intersection in a highly diverse community. The new 84,500-square-foot school, which has achieved LEED Gold certification, accommodates 750 students, pre-kindergarten through fifth grade. With a very firm budget and a challenging site, the design team fully acknowledged that the school should continue to be the center of one of the most culturally diverse neighborhoods in Houston, and responded with a building that not just resists institutional character, but evokes the character of that community.
A strong concern for struggling families with siblings and cousins in attendance became the principal’s motive to keep the current school in operation while the new one was being constructed on the same site. Maintaining the existing building, while erecting a new school, became an architectural opportunity outside of an operational obstacle. The prospective site was pushed to the northern-most area of the property which leveraged the southern half of the site for a new park space. The mature trees maintain the street edge while buffering the student’s play area from the busy street. Designed as two adjacent wings, the brick-clad school provides views to green spaces and away from the busy streets. The building floor plan design divides the program into three distinct components: public or assembly spaces and non-learning spaces; a classroom wing for Pre K –K and non-grade level spaces such as the library; and a classroom wing for grades 1-2 on the first level and grades 3-5 on the upper level. This organization allows for age groups to be consolidated at grade levels while keeping louder assembly spaces separate from administration areas.
Elementary teachers know that color plays a major role in education and strive to provide a stimulating environment with their bulletin boards and trim. Cunningham offers an architectural integration of color. The vibrant exterior detailed patterns of red and yellow brick introduce the interior hallways that virtually glow with progressions of color, moving from green to yellow to orange to blue. Floor tiles that coordinate with wall colors transition via interlocking patterns that spill into classrooms through corresponding colored doors. Hallways are given special attention to foster a learning community and to visually replenish the senses before the next class. While the language of the corridor is often overlooked, and is typically a neutral space, this project presents an exploration of the hallway within the budgetary constraints and within the bank of materials established by the school district.
Brick was functionally ideal in providing the new school with a material that retains its vibrancy exponentially better than applied finishes. The integral color of the clay brick also provides a resilient material that can sustain environmental and urban abuse. The principal wanted the new school to have an identity beyond the institutional conventions of an elementary school, to provide the neighborhood with a sophisticated play of materials that could outshine the mixed industrial context of the neighborhood. Utilizing a mix of masonry stacking strategies and double stacked running bond, two stacked bricks 'square up' to form a new patterned unit. The scale of the standard bricks offered pattern groupings which translated into the program of the interior of the building, making a continuous motif of a patterned field of red and yellow. Shared spaces like the cafeteria, library, and inner court are detailed in a flow of interlacing masonry that shifts the building from red to yellow. With students in mind, themes of graduating scale effect site strategies, component concepts, masonry detail and interiors.
“Houston To See New Generation Of Green Schools.” KUHF, February 5, 2013.
Brick in Architecture Bronze Award
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- Consulting / Programming
- Consulting / Building Sciences