Architect: Foundation Architects, LLC
Owner: Milwaukee Public Schools
Contractor: Nicholas & Associates, Inc.
The project is a 21,500 sq ft addition and 11,000 sq ft alteration to address overcrowding. Constructed in 1927, the original four story brick masonry building has a strong connection to the quiet Bay View neighborhood.
A two-story masonry addition was programmed to house eight classrooms, a gymnasium, and an interior courtyard. At the onset of design, a charrette was held to identify meaningful aspects of the educational program for the site. The client was very concerned with maintaining a traditional connection to the surrounding neighborhood, while also providing an interior environment uniquely tailored to the Montessori leaning method. Consequently, the solution resolved both of these seemingly diverse ideas of traditional and modern design in a sensitive urban addition while bringing increased usability and visibility to the existing building.
The traditional exterior design of the addition takes cues from the character and detailing of the original 1927 brick masonry school building. The brick blend was selected to match color and texture and is a modern interpretation of the common bond pattern and decorative basket weave panels of the original building. The traditional masonry massing wall is opened up to reveal a modern entrance with views through the lobby and into the interior courtyard beyond, creating a safe urban portal for parents and the public.
The compact massing of the addition frames a new secure outdoor courtyard that allows light and air deep into the enlarged building in a useful and programmatic way, connecting the exterior as an extension of the interior educational experience while maximizing the outdoor educational space of the remaining site. A two story design reduced sprawl and increased continuity with the 1920’s Bungalow neighborhood while creating a simple and elegant framework for connecting the addition horizontally with a continuous corridor circulation loop and vertically with a six-stop double sided elevator providing ADA accessibility to the entire facility.
The interior architecture was designed to maintain a fruitful Montessori learning environment that “Exceeds Expectations.” Early in design, the decision was made to expose the building’s structure and mechanical systems to serve as a learning tool for the students. Ceiling clouds provide acoustical treatment and allow the inquisitive a chance to peek into the components that make up the building. Large informal classrooms and extra-wide twelve foot corridors provide ample space for students to engage in the self-exploration that is integral to the Montessori learning method. Each classroom is equipped with a large bank of windows that both create views into the neighborhood and allow in abundant amounts of natural daylight. Artificial lighting is rarely used in the classrooms throughout the school day as indirect daylighting pours into the classrooms until the early afternoon. The extra-wide corridors on each level function as additional informal classroom space. Along the perimeter of the corridors, custom benches were designed to provide informal study opportunities while reusing the original wood strip flooring from the repurposed gymnasium within the existing building. Painted soffit elements and floor patterns reinforce the building structural organization. Opposite the classrooms, the corridors overlook an interior courtyard through a two-story modern curtainwall that contrasts the adjacent historical brick building. When viewed from the existing building during the day, the curtainwall reflects the 1927 building and begins to take on its masonry character. In the evening, the curtainwall emanates light and the interior spaces are revealed.
The courtyard functions as an exterior classroom, a gathering space for school events, and it allows access of natural light into all 4 stories of the existing building. The bottom tier of the stepped courtyard contains brick pavers designed into a swirling pattern to create a playful environment for the Montessori children to follow as part of their curriculum of self-exploration. At the center of the courtyard is a partial-height curved concrete seat wall that plays off a series of concentric circles. These circles are composed of donor recognition pavers that were designed for the fundraising campaign with years of expansion available for future Alumni. The pavers are laid in a herringbone pattern which draws from the herringbone brick accent areas above the original entrance vestibules. This area functions as an informal gathering space and amphitheater for class discussions and presentations. The courtyard also incorporates a sand pit, area for water play and a custom designed sundial.
A south-facing vertical sundial is mounted to the brick wall at the north end of the courtyard. The sundial consists of aluminum hour lines, two sets of numbered plates for both Standard Time and Daylight Savings Time, and a large circular gnomon plate with custom painted labyrinth design. The labyrinth is used as a Montessori learning tool and ties the sundial to the school. The sundial’s asymmetry is derived from the hours of the day in which it receives sunlight.
The new gymnasium was designed to be used for physical education, extracurricular sports activities and as a space available to the surrounding community. The acoustical design of the space incorporates acoustical masonry units, acoustical fabric panels around the entire perimeter and acoustical metal roof deck. Purposeful implementation of these design elements maintain speech intelligibility and allow the multi-purpose gym to be used for athletic events, school assemblies, large meetings and musical concerts.
The existing 1927 school building alteration features ADA upgrades and the repurposing of the original gymnasium into a dedicated cafeteria and multi-purpose parent center mezzanine that is open to the space below. The old gym is divided horizontally with an open area to allow natural light onto both altered levels.
Photos: John J. Korom Photography