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In 2011, Rockwell Group completed Blue School for pre-k and elementary students. The firm joined the early planning efforts for their new middle school in 2015, helping assess potential locations and conducting an extensive programming exercise for the new facility. The new Lower Manhattan location features a dedicated ground floor entry, new facade, and four levels of flexible modern classrooms and specialized learning spaces. Inspired by Blue School’s philosophy that students should collaborate and work together, Rockwell Group ensured that every space, from classrooms to hallways, creates moments for planned and spontaneous group learning and inspiration.

A custom facade panel at the ground floor entry animates the street and a 10-foot-square exterior art wall can accommodate rotating artwork. Inside, a gallery-like reception contains ample room to display student work and neon yellow central stair knits together the multi-level school. The other principal space located on the ground floor is the school Commons, a pick-up and drop-off area, student lounge, study hall, café, and community space. The walls are lined with a system of tiered, planted trays that function as a small-scale urban garden in partnership with Brooklyn Grange. A variety of informal seating options, tinted concrete floor, and colorful outdoor furniture give the space a casual feeling. The second floor is dedicated to a mix of student classrooms, the school library, and teacher workspaces. Each classroom has a small area devoted to the quiet study and is configured slightly differently with raised carpeted platforms in saturated color schemes.

Rockwell Group designed simple non-directional desks, allowing the furniture to be configured in various small group arrangements. The book-lined double-height library features common tables and a monumental sofa to give students a wide variety of options for both individual and collaborative study. A large-scale color changing light sculpture hangs in the two-story space, giving the school added street presence at night. Additional classrooms, separate chemistry, and biology labs, and art and maker-spaces continue on the third floor. The lower level accommodates a critical component of the new school’s program: a 1,600 square-foot column-free gym. To achieve this column-free space and preserve the ceiling height, the design and engineering team removed a central building column and introduced new steel to maintain the structural integrity of the building.

The unusually generous ceiling height allowed Rockwell Group to create a space suitable for basketball as well as a variety of sports. This space converts to a 130-seat auditorium for performances and large school gatherings. A separate adjacent studio space dedicated to music and dance features a sprung maple floor, custom instrument storage, and specialized acoustic treatments. The space at the foot of the central open stair doubles as a student lounge as well as an informal pre-function space for events. Wall surfaces are clad with geometric wallpaper by Flavor Paper and the room contains custom blue foam lounge furniture inspired by Rockwell Group’s Imagination Playground— Blue School was an early adopter and user of this foam block system.

Architects: Rockwell Group
Photographs: Albert Vecerka/Esto
Manufacturers: Designtex, KVADRAT

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