Text description provided by the architects. Project designer; Chung Chan
Central Los Angeles Learning Center #1, at the site of the former Ambassador Hotel, consists of a K-5 school, now completed, a middle school, and a high school – all in the context of a single, virtually seamless campus. The K-5 building, for 800 students, is approximately 92,000 square feet and contains 44 classrooms in a two-story structure.
This master plan seeks to establish an academic pride-of-place among community members and students that begins at kindergarten and evolves continuously through high school graduation.
Aware of some of the security and influence concerns that come with this approach, the design of the campus developed well-defined zones whose edges are not walls, fences, and barbed wire, but subtle design features, such as terraced grade changes, and separate courtyards and passage systems.
Another program innovation is the concept of Small Learning Communities. In the K-5 school, this led to the definition of two distinct courtyards around which the school was organized. The employment of this de-centralizing device – while giving each sub-school identity – also proved to be highly flexible: As District policy evolved, the K-5 school came to be the home of two distinct pilot schools: The two-courtyard ‘sub-school’ organization was the optimum solution for their occupancy.
A principal planning challenge was to overcome the divorce of the site’s original grading from the city street system at both the south and west, and to re-integrate the site with the neighboring streets. Bringing the K-5 School down 30’ to make it both accessible to, and integrated with, 8th Street required a substantial investment in re-grading the site. Through design, the resultant grade differences introduced barrier-less and subtle separations between school grades.
A major design challenge was to objectively evaluate the existing Ambassador Hotel and its suitability as an educational facility. While the structurally deficient original building is now demolished, the original master plan served as the skeleton for the planning and relationships of the subsequent schools, including the K-5.
The facility’s circulation is continuously open-air, beginning with the entry portal and leading to a grand open-air stair covered by a sky-lit canopy. The scale of this stair makes it an instrument of both circulation and socializing. On circulating between classrooms, or between the eastern and western branches of the school, the two courtyards provide identity and way-finding for students in what could otherwise have been an over-scaled school for children of this age.
In playful contrast to the zinc cladding at the entry is a material collage of painted plaster and perforated metal panels in a palette that combines white, charcoal gray, bright orange, and yellow-green. This vivid composition of the campus is intentional in conveying a spirit that is strong on academic discipline, and equally strong on a sense of ease, a sense of play.
The K-5 Library, patterned in colorful orange and white, is a high-volume space, the most dramatic, and public space in the school, celebrating reading and literacy in a most public way, with double height windows advertising the activities directly to the 8th Street sidewalk.