Park Century School

Park Century School

Photographs by Doug Olsen

glass trees and a multicolored skylight (top and center) bring color and light into the building, while the "Main street" carries stone paving indoors (above). The loading dock has been repurposed as a dropoff area for students (below).

A light-filled new campus for the Park Century School gives little hint of its earlier incarnation as a concrete tilt-up warehouse before remodeling last year by Los Angeles–based architect Christopher V. Ward.

Set on a cul-de-sac in the still-industrial but rapidly gentrifying Culver City neighborhood, Park Century serves 90 students with learning disabilities, grades 2 through 8. To help soften the structure’s hard edges, Ward built his design around a series of welcoming moves. Most strikingly, the former warehouse’s principal concrete facade is now covered in wood, with a loggia separating it from an outer glass wall. Green glass trees affixed to the wall seem to float in front of the school, glowing when the loggia behind them is lit at night.

To illuminate the building’s two-story interior, Ward first made the most of existing skylights, painting the surfaces beneath them white to reflect light into the hallways. He also installed windows and a large round skylight in the school’s central atrium. Inset with yellow and green glass, it casts a pattern of colorful shapes in a shifting arc on the floor as the sun moves across the sky.

Although Ward gutted the warehouse’s interior, a few of its features proved adaptable to the purposes of a school. Its front loading dock now receives students at the beginning of the school day, and is outfitted with picnic tables for lunch hour. Since the 47,000-square- foot property was too small to accommodate an outdoor playground, Ward extended the dock’s natural stone paving into the first-floor hallways, creating an indoor “Main Street” lined with plantings, park benches, and columns that taper in tree-like fashion. The street also sports one relic preserved from the old warehouse: industrial scales that now serves as a favorite plaything for the students.

The particularities of the Park Century curriculum called for specialized design solutions, Ward said. Unlike a conventional school built around classes of 20 to 30 students, Park Century children, most of whom have attention deficit disorder or dyslexia, have more varied daily schedules that required 12 large classrooms, six small- group rooms, and 12 individual tutoring rooms. The design also had to be sensitive to the psychological needs of the student body. “The kids respond better in a more stable environment,” said Ward, explaining that he kept the layout as simple as possible, with a minimum of curves and angles. To keep noise in the hallway from disrupting classes, he carpeted segments of the first floor. And to discourage parents from meddling too frequently in students’ daily routines, Ward built a stylish parents’ lounge situated well off the school’s main thoroughfare.