by Catherine Teegarden Center for Architecture Foundation
Teachers and staff at P.S. 1 in Chinatown had a fascinating history lesson at a Center for Architecture Foundation workshop on 11.06.12. The focus of the program was the design of their own 1899 school building, one of 400 schools designed by Charles B.J. Snyder, Superintendent of School Buildings for New York City from 1891 – 1923.
C.B.J. Snyder expert Jean Arrington began the program with a slide talk familiarizing teachers with Snyder’s design ideas and the transformative effect his work had on the city’s school system. Snyder’s schools are typically elegant buildings with spacious, well-lit classrooms, good ventilation, and ample space for student recreation. He believed that students of every income level and background deserved dignified schools that would elevate the learning experience and improve the unhealthy conditions in which many New Yorkers lived. He developed innovative ways of fire proofing and maximizing the use of space through his signature “H-plan” layout, double stair halls, and rooftop playgrounds.
P.S. 1 teachers were amazed to see historic photographs of students using the rooftop play space and specialty classrooms on the building’s top floor. They lamented the boarding up of the once-operable transom windows that let light and air flow from classrooms to hallways, creating cooling breezes and brightening the school’s interior spaces. The teachers then took a tour of the building, starting at the roof and ending in the basement, identifying some of the design features they had just learned about. It was a fun way to kick off CFAF’s architecture program on local landmarks with P.S. 1’s second-graders, sponsored in part by the New York State Council on the Arts and the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs, and to give the staff a fresh perspective on their old school building.
Student design work from P.S. 1’s landmark program will be featured in CFAF’s annual “Building Connections” exhibit, opening Friday, 11.30.12, 4–7 pm at the Center. Historic schools will be the focus of the panel discussion “Adapting Historic Schools for 21st Century Learning” at the Center 01.17.13, 6–8 pm.