Brooks and Scarpa Designed New Charter High School in South Los Angeles Opens to Students

Brooks + Scarpa Designed New Charter High School in South Los Angeles Opens to Students

Brooks + Scarpa recently completed the replacement building for the Animo South Los Angeles High School. The old building was destroyed by a massive fire in 2014.

After four years of planning the replacement structure is finally open to students. This new structure for 630 students contains eleven classrooms, two science labs, faculty lounge, new administrative and counseling offices and public courtyard space for student gatherings and activities. It was also required to meet the highest levels of student security and protection from surrounding crime and gang activities.

Located in one of the toughest areas in South Central Los Angeles, the new replacement school is located in an area that was a central trouble spot during the 1964 Watts and the 1992 Rodney King Riots. Fair Housing and school busing has plagued the area since the early 60's where median family income is less than $35,000/year and 25% of the population lives below the poverty level in the high crime section of Los Angeles.

South Los Angeles High is a progressive, public charter high school known for its collaborative, curriculum and strong community connection. This building and addition to the 1950's campus creates a flexible teaching environment that supports significant parental involvement and puts student life at the center of the school and unites the campus community.

Designed on an extremely limited budget and aggressive schedule, simple cost effective gestures were deployed in the use of cladding, fenestration, color and transparency to create a memorable sense of richness, providing a bright moment in an extremely tough inner city community. Unlike most school that are enclosed by a property line security fence, the South Los Angeles High School building is surrounded by a 20 foot high perforated bullet resistant metal walls that are integrated into the building design. This creates light filled courtyards for outside activity that is connected directly to classroom activities. This arrangement of courtyard design allows the building to breathe fresh air and daylight while providing a safe and secure environment for leaning and social engagement. Open-air light-filled halls and classrooms, as well as the building transparency, express the school's values and provide a healthy, sustainable learning environment. The building form and primary courtyard are formed by a series of required clearances around an oil well abandoned in the late 1970's, a series of power line and utility easements, height restrictions and zone changes running through the site that constrain the form and size to it's maximum possible building area envelope.

The perforated anodized aluminum fa├žade panels of the building creates an ever-changing screen that sparkles in the sun and glows at night, while simultaneously providing shade to cool the building, reducing noise, enhancing privacy, and still allowing for views, great natural light and ventilation which pass through its millions of perforations. The material reappears as a strategic arrangement of screens around the building, lending a subtle rhythm to the exterior circulation. The walls filter direct sunlight that lends unexpected visual depth while creating a sense of security for the occupants. Enhancing the structure's geometric texture, the irregular array of openings variably extrudes from the building's surface. Its unique architectural form and integrated function creates a high-performing building that is an expression of the people who live there and the environmental and cultural context in which it is built.

Photography: Tara Wujcik

Brooks + Scarpa

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