A Vibrant Collection of Buildings and Open Spaces Inspires Students and Engages the Community

Historic and design significance of the school's site created a number of interesting challenges and opportunities

The first of three school buildings of the Los Angeles Unified School District’s new Central LA Learning Center No. 1 in the Central Wilshire District opened its doors to 800 K-5 students on Sept. 7, 2009. The $400 million campus, located on the site of the famed Ambassador Hotel, is designed by Gonzalez Goodale Architects of Pasadena.

The K-5 building is approximately 92,000 square feet and contains 46 classrooms in a 2-story structure. The middle school and high school buildings, now under construction, will contain 130 classrooms in 452,000 square feet.

The historic and design significance of the site created a number of interesting challenges and opportunities, according to David Goodale, design principal of Goodale Gonzalez. “The design solution was charged with mapping the historic diagram of the site with the needs of a wholly contemporary educational campus based on the LAUSD’s desired Small Learning Community (SLC) pedagogy, which breaks large, urban schools into smaller, more intimate learning communities of 500 students,” says Goodale. “Our solution successfully addressed the programmatic and expressive goals, using the original ‘figure/ground’ of the hotel campus as the skeleton of the new K-12 campus and replacing the iconic Wilshire Boulevard presence of a hotel with an iconic presence of transparent classrooms.”

The resulting design is a vibrant collection of buildings and open spaces that will inspire students while engaging the community. The architects employed a recurring vocabulary of transparency, zinc roofs, perforated metal, and open flanking stairs, creating an interplay between a contemporary exploration of materials and the classical composition of the site.

Designed and built to reflect the latest green building methods and materials, this Learning Center exceeds the strict environmental standards set by the CHPS (Collaborative for High Performance Schools). The campus is the first in California to employ thermal displacement ventilation (TDV), in which air is delivered from the lower portion of the walls rather than from the ceiling. The upward flow of air results in a more efficient form of air-cooling and improves air quality and reduces germs in the air, which, in turn, leads to fewer sick days for students, preserving more revenue for the school. A full glass curtainwall façade on the north face of the high school building maximizes natural light in the classrooms, which reduces energy costs and improves academic performance.

The physically integrated campus relies on virtual borders made possible by the site’s topography to satisfy security needs. The 2-story K-5 building is at street level, and its siting places it farthest away from busy Wilshire Boulevard. The high school building occupies the high ground to the north and its central great lawn will serve as the ceremonial center of the site[AM1]  for graduations. The middle school building entry is located on a lower street level. Not only does this varied topography become a visual metaphor for students’ experience of “going up” through the grade levels, but it also provides a vital safety and traffic function by allowing for separate entrances for each of the three schools on their own sides of the site. The three distinct school communities are linked by shared common cultural and recreational facilities.