Nautical-Inspired School Architecture Earns Design Awards


NEW HAVEN, CT - The innovative work of Svigals + Partners, a New Haven-based architectural firm known for its ability to tell a powerful story through the integration of figurative art and building design, was honored with two coveted industry awards in connection with the design of the John S. Martinez Elementary School in this city.


The K-8 school, which serves 600 students, was one of only 10 educational facilities nationwide jointly commended by the American Association of School Administrators (AASA), the American Institute of Architects, and the Council of Educational Facility Planners International for design excellence. Similarly, it was one of only four schools recognized nationally by the Brick Industry Association with a 2007 Brick In Architecture Gold Award.

"We are pleased and proud to receive two such distinguished industry awards," stated Barry Svigals, founder and managing partner, Svigals + Partners. "We are especially gratified to know our design affected the community so dramatically... aesthetically and functionally. It was extremely rewarding to work closely with teachers, school administrators, city officials, and neighborhood residents to bring this project to fruition."

"The Martinez School is one of 26 schools to be completed to date with funding provided by New Haven's $1.5 billion Citywide School Construction Program," said Tom Rogér, Gilbane Building Company, New Haven, CT, who directs the School Construction Program. "The program was launched in 1995 with the mission to rebuild every public school in the city in order to enhance the academic achievements of its students, minimize the expense to city taxpayers, and revitalize neighborhoods. It's an honor to know our efforts are being recognized on a national level."

In selecting the John S. Martinez School and Svigals + Partners for its 2008 Architectural Award - Honorable Mention Citation, the AASA jury observed the school's design "carefully considered urban safety and security issues; proved instrumental in revitalizing the neighborhood by supporting the needs of both student and community programs; and incorporated an interior courtyard to provide abundant natural light, a central orientation point, and an outdoor classroom/play area."

Designing for the Community

According to Svigals, siting the 100,000 -quare-foot school at the edge of a densely populated residential neighborhood presented an interesting design challenge.

"We needed to reduce the scale of the facility and allow it to harmonize with the surrounding residential buildings and homes," he explained.

The design team achieved this by expressing individual classroom walls as sail-like curves reminiscent of a fleet of "sharpies," the single-masted sailboats popular in nearby New Haven harbor.

"The resultant undulating brick exterior animates the street and reduces the building's mass on the three primary facades facing the neighborhood," said Svigals, noting the Martinez School was specifically designed to act as a transition and buffer between nearby residential and commercial zones.

He added, "The specification of brick offered aesthetic consistency as well as permanence of construction to convey the timeless importance of education. It further allowed us to involve the community in the school's design and construction by encouraging students and parents to produce hand-made bricks."

It was this novel utilization of brick to express the building's nautical design elements and community solidarity that prompted The Brick Industry Association to recognize the Martinez School and Svigals + Partners with its gold award.

In addition to its billowing sails effect, the Martinez School boasts a number of original piecesof art, including hand-crafted sculpture designed by Svigals.

School Design and Economic Vitality

Intended for year-round community use, the Martinez School provides resources such as a swimming pool and gymnasium. One of the school's most distinctive features is its landscaped courtyard, located at the heart of the building's interior. The open-air courtyard is outfitted with plantings, seating, and program spaces for the sciences. Additional school spaces include classrooms, offices, a cafeteria, media center/library, and playground.

Since the school's completion in August 2004, a number of apartment buildings and homes in the surrounding area have been renovated, thereby confirming the notion that well-designed educational facilities help improve or restore a community's economic health. A 2004 report, entitled Public Schools and Economic Development: What the Research Shows, cites several examples of redevelopment projects that keyed on the renovation or new construction of a school, particularly when schools are designed as community resources with a wide range of users. 

"The Martinez School has influenced the local community very positively," concluded Svigals. "While we greatly appreciate receiving these two industry awards for the professional distinction they impart, the true reward associated with them comes from knowing we helped elevate the students and surrounding neighborhood through our architecture."