AD Classics: John W. Chorley Elementary School / Paul Rudolph

©Daniel Hui

It is always wonderful to stumble upon humble examples of architecture done by exalted architects, who are typically known and appreciated for their larger structures rather than their smaller-scale or less flashy buildings. In the case of Middletown, , the local elementary school flaunts hints of the more recognized designs of Paul Rudolph but at a more modest scale.

More on the by Paul Rudolph after the break.

© Daniel Hui

Completed in 1964, the public elementary school is the first and only building designed by Rudolph at the scale of a child. The school is very progressive in it’s overall layout; the main floor is separated by walls that do not fully enclose the class rooms, leading essentially to an open floor plan which is referred to as a “continuous progress plan.”

© Paul Rudolph Organization

All rooms are open to each other, with operable walls that allow for flexibility of spaces. Another aspect of the internal design of the building is the series of saw-tooth clerestory windows that rim the top of the walls, allowing for a substantial flow of natural lighting and giving the feel of an older factory building.

© Paul Rudolph Organization

The area of the site totals around 27-acres, and the school was to be built for 918 students. Although these seems to be a moderately-sized school, Rudolph is successful in maintaining the feeling of a more relatable domestic scale for the children. The instructional wings were staggered along a spine of communal spaces, including spaces for art, music, guidance, physical education and administration. Each of the classrooms has a door to the exterior of the building and is also open within the wing, which enables teachers to teach up to eight classes at once.

© Daniel Hui

The school has been in the discussion of many of the locals in Middletown, as the demolition of the building in the process of constructing a new elementary school was slated in 2009. The new school is proposed to be built near the existing site, also including a new parking lot which would extend to the present boundaries of the John W. Chorley Elementary School. Although it is not necessary to demolish the existing school building, there are proposals to do so anyways to maximize the site area for the proposed design.

Many others argued for the case of the historical building, hoping to convince as many citizens as possible that the cultural and historical aspect of having a building done by Paul Rudolph is crucial to the identity of the city. As of the beginning of 2010, the Preservation League of New York placed the John W. Chorley Elementary School on the 2010 “Seven to Save” list.

© Paul Rudolph Organization

Architect: Paul Rudolph
Location: Middletown, New York, USA
Project Year: 1964-1969
Photographs: Paul Rudolph Organization, Daniel Hui
References: UMass Dartmouth, Paul Rudolph Organization

Cite: Sveiven, Megan. "AD Classics: John W. Chorley Elementary School / Paul Rudolph" 08 Dec 2010. ArchDaily. Accessed 28 May 2015. <>
  • wpgmb

    super cool project.

    typical north american ignorance: let’s just demolish the entire existing structure/site/landscape/whatever, and plunk down something new and hideous with zero consideration or foresight.

  • scottie_m

    Rudolph was genius and if it takes another Wes Anderson movie to bring attention to his work, so be it. May more Americans and architects see the value of progressive post-war architecture.

  • Andrew

    Cheers to humble works of architecture that actually beat most of the stuff in glossy magazines. Nice find.

  • dave

    although the scale may be modest, there’s nothing modest about that section perspective…amazing feats of virtuoso those Rudolph drawings are. and a beautiful strategy for integrating the project into the site topography.

  • modernsarasota

    Thanks for a beautiful post, full of great photographs and drawings. I admire Paul Rudolph’s work and wish I knew him personally. I am surrounded by what is left of his work in Sarasota. It is truly something to be experienced, first hand, from the inside, then the outside, then the inside…

    • Viva Post and Beam

      Well said! More effort needs to be put forth to keep the work of Paul Rudolph in the public eye.