Thursday, September 4, 2008

School of Modernism

Last weekend while driving up Georgia Avenue to explore the growing Petworth neighborhood I could see a looming new building come into view on the horizon. From a distance the unique massing of the structure became immediately evident. It got my attention and I pulled over to investigate. This was the new Euphemia L. Haynes Public Charter School. I was so excited to see a positive aspect to the much discussed DC public school infrastructure, which tends to be crumbling and dated. This building was neither. The design is very simple and straightforward. It retains a somewhat "no frills" design approach while at the same time commanding a lot of interest. The bulk of the building is a central mass clad in large light gray metal panels. This facade is broken up with a series of horizontal staggered ribbon windows which create a movement along the elevation. Anchoring one corner, where the entrance is located, is a large rectangular mass clad in a rust colored corrugated metal. It protrudes just slightly from the structure as to make it appear to have been partially enveloped by the main building. This instance happens on a larger scale on the other end as well. It is what can be refereed to as a play on "figure / ground" in the massing. Subtle gestures here produce big design moves. The corner entrance beneath the rust colored element is clad in floor to ceiling storefront glass. This also allows for the "figure" to appear to float above the entry. The base of the entire building consists of a tile pattern that plays with some color and mixes in glass block, but only mildly. This could have created a much more vibrant gesture and given excitement to the pedestrian level of the building had there been a greater play with color, pattern, or mix of materials. In it's current state is seems a bit weak. All in all this new school is an attention getter and it's clean lines and creative design make it a wonderful addition to the neighborhood and the public school system.

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