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DESIGN TREND: layers of connection

Layers of connection draw people into and through a building. They are what beckons them to enter and keeps them moving. Buildings that have this quality offer a series of experiences; they are intriguing, because they cannot be understood all at once.

Camino Nuevo High School (Los Angeles, CA), Daly Genik

The designers of Camino Nuevo High School created layers of connection despite a challenging site: a long, narrow island in an old commercial district. The school’s connection to the busy street on the south is filtered. Learning spaces are buffered first by the building’s perforated metal skin, and then by the vegetation that also provides shading. The next layer is the street, the next the community. For those inside, the connection to the city of Los Angeles is subtle, gradual. While it has filtered transparency to the street on the south, the school is largely transparent from the more residential area on the north. Single loading the main classroom building created direct visual connections to the courtyard that is the hub of the school—the scene of everything from large scale art projects to all-school meetings—and to the street and the community beyond.

Layering has many aspects: aesthetic, spatial and social. There is also an element of exploration. Moving through the Indian Community School, the visitor encounters a kaleidoscope of images—connections to other interior spaces and the people in them, as well as framed vistas to the prairie grassland and hardwood forest outside. Looking out through interior spaces, the transition is softened—and the experience enhanced—by the use of natural materials that echo nature’s palette.

Canada’s National Ballet School (Toronto, ON), Kuwabara Payne McKenna Blumberg Architects

Transparency is a key element in creating connections. Canada’s National Ballet School makes extensive use of glass to create a sense of community within and to engage the community outside. It borrows the composition of the office tower to create modern wings that embrace the small heritage building at the center of the site. Inside the tower studios, dancers can look out over the street and the surrounding community; from the street, the studios are performance spaces, especially when lighted at night. Transparency brought dance to the street, stimulating community pride and engagement. Inside, transparency helps to integrate an active public realm of generous corridors, lounges and stairwells with the dance studios and other instructional areas.

Francis Parker School (San Diego, CA), LakeFlato Architects
In schools, an important element of connection is that people learn by watching others: not only students, but teachers as well. The opportunity to observe other teachers can be a powerful professional development strategy. At the Francis Parker School, connections are layered and meaningful: the classroom is connected to the circulation space through a glass overhead door, usually open in San Diego’s sunny climate; the circulation space is open to the courtyard; and everyone passes through the courtyard, which was designed to connect learners and to establish a social environment that enhances learning. Teachers take classes outside, into the courtyard or to smaller outdoor learning areas, and they share access to interior spaces, such as the library and science gallery. Taking instruction out of the classroom gives teachers an opportunity to vary instruction and enrich the curriculum—and also to see what other teachers are doing. In the busy lives of teachers, that may be the best available professional dialog.

Project Information

Camino Nuevo High School (Los Angeles, CA), Daly Genik

Indian Community School (Milwaukie, WI), Antoine Predock Architect, PC

Canada’s National Ballet School (Toronto, ON), Kuwabara Payne McKenna Blumberg Architects

Francis Parker School (San Diego, CA), LakeFlato Architects


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