High Tech Los Angeles
Personalization, Hands-On Learning, Authentic Contexts, Student Agency, and Teacher Collaboration.
9-12 charter public high school serving 400 students. Renovation/addition, single story, 33,000 SF, completed 2005.
Commons Areas, Grade Level Teaching Neighborhoods, cross-discipline Teacher’s Offices, Teamed Classrooms with Movable Walls, Learning Studios, Specialty Labs, Fabrication Labs, and varied Display and Exhibition venues.
Los Angeles, California
A Charter High School located on the grounds of a public high school in Los Angeles, CA, High Tech Los Angeles seeks to create a smaller and more problem-based learning environment that engages students in authentic and community-based projects.
While High Tech Los Angeles (HTLA) shares a similar philosophy to that of High Tech High, it is not owned or operated by the HTH network of schools. Designed by Berliner Architects, the HTLA facility sits on a one-acre parcel in an underutilized corner of Los Angeles Unified School Districts 71-acre Birmingham High School in suburban Van Nuys, CA. Two vacant warehouses on the Birmingham campus were gutted, seismically strengthened, and blended into a 27,000-square-foot, self-contained structure through the addition of a large, geometrically playful glass volume. The new school, accessed through Birmingham High, is designed for 400 students, and includes eight classrooms, a robotics and prototyping lab, a commons/library and great room, teachers’ and administrators’ offices, two conference rooms, and outdoor learning and study spaces.
A brightly colored, gently curved wall, measuring eight feet high toward the street front and 12 feet high at the rear, encircles the campus. The enclosure adds safety and privacy to outdoor spaces, while the use of color (orange) projects a fun, vibrant energy that enlivens the street façade. Outdoor spaces include the entry courtyard, where tables are gathered around a large central tree, and a separate “study garden” that holds an outdoor amphitheater and tables shaded by a steel awning. Throughout the day, these spaces are used as gathering places, lunch areas, and extensions of the classrooms.
The heart of the school is a 25-foot-high glass and steel, light-filled multi-purpose commons room. In addition to creating a distinctive visual identity for the school and central meeting place for students, it provides 9,000 square feet of new programmatic space, and serves as a fluid connection between the school’s two wings. The space can be reconfigured by moving the furniture to accommodate anything from small collaborative projects to all-school assemblies. Acoustic panels lining the room’s high, open ceilings and rubber flooring provide high acoustic quality.
Administrative offices define the periphery of the commons, clad in bright green metal storage cabinets. Windows are cut into the office walls, enabling students and administrators to view one another’s comings and goings. This visibility fosters a sense of community and encourages communication. Lower school classrooms, located on the south side of the commons, encourage collaborative teamwork in a structured environment. Three large classrooms are designed with ample cabinet space and retractable dividers, allowing them to be halved into smaller spaces. Most classrooms have an attached “project room” – a separate 300- to 450-square-foot area to facilitate small-group projects with space to store works in progress, eliminating the need for tear down and set-up between classes.
Technology and science classrooms on the north side of the commons are adjacent to a state-of-the-art robotics lab where students can build what they have designed on computers. The original building’s outdated machine shop has been redesigned as a modern engineering and robotics lab with computerized milling machines. Students now use the space to build robots for local and national competitions.
HTLA exceeds the California Energy Commission’s High Performance Schools standards. The building uses 10% less energy than the state’s Title 24 requires and will serve as a model for new schools of the future. Skylights, roof monitors, and high clerestories with light shelves bring controlled natural light into the school, minimizing the need for electric light. In the soaring commons area, the curving steel-beamed ceiling meets with a bank of north-facing windows that capture natural light. High performance glazing minimizes solar heat gain in the summer and heat loss in the winter, while maximizing the daylight that shines into the school. The building’s roof was designed to use photo voltaic panels. Cool roof materials and heat-reflective paint stabilize indoor temperatures. Throughout the project, unconventional and environmentally responsible interior finishes were implemented to further reinforce the urban streetscape feeling of the interior space.