A bright and fun building that stands out against it’s surroundings, Michael Graves is well respected for his design that brought hope to the families of children with disabilities in Washington D.C. and surrounding areas.
St. Coletta was founded in 1959 by a couple with a child diagnosed with Down Syndrome. As they had history dealing with the struggle of finding an educational system that worked for their child, they decided to establish the school as a special education charter which serviced and educated children with severe or multiple disabilities. The bright colors and simple forms make it very fitting for the people that the building serves, as it is fun, playful and inviting.
More on St. Coletta School after the break.
The 99,000-square-footage of the plot was built upwards in a series of two-story “school houses” which attach to a double-height central hall with a skylight, referred to as “village green.” The area also includes a community room and full court gymnasium for the students. This large layout wonderfully accommodates all of the programs run by the institution, including an adult day program.
The total cost came to about $32 million, which was appointed from congressional appropriations, a bond secured by Bank of America, and a capital fundraising campaign. What stuns the proud parents, neighbors, and the general population the most is the upscale designs of every aspect of the building.
Students range in age from 3 to 22, and are housed according to age in one of the five individual “houses.”
In a city that seemed insensitive to the needs of the children initially, the parents were so thrilled to see a gymnasium suitable for a college team, and a kitchen suitable for a fancy restaurant. The building also includes a nursing facility, physical therapy centers and a hydrotherapy room. There are studios for art and music, and sensory rooms designed to stimulate students with lights, colors and sounds.
The playfulness of light in the central atrium with arched ceilings and multiple skylights add to the experience, as rooms are brightened and colors are enhanced by the flow of natural light.
Ironically enough, while in the early planning stages of the project, Graves grew sick with a mysterious illness that left him partially paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair. John Diebboll, Graves partner in the project, said that this gave Graves an even greater insight into the needs of the population.
“We have always been drawn to projects for children,” wrote Diebboll. “However, nothing in our lives had prepared us for the day that Michael Graves and I first visited the St. Coletta School in Alexandria. We experienced an immediate connection with the students and staff and realized that this would be a once-in-a-lifetime challenge and an extraordinary opportunity.”