OCV Architects: Designing for the Past, Present and Future at Preston High School

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New York architects redesign a Bronx High School, bringing two older buildings together and into the 21st century.

Preston High School by OCV Architects

We were walking through the basement when the bell rang

When New York architects Jack Coogan and Kirsten Youngren of OCV Architects first visited Preston High School in the Bronx, they got a first hand look at some of the logistical and planning issues they had been called in to fix. "We were walking through the basement when the bell rang," said Coogan, "and suddenly waves of uniformed girls began streaming from each direction, converging on a single door opening. It was a real logjam." The door opening into the basement is the only interior connection between the school's older 1890's building, a structure added in 1960. It is also the only way students can get from a class in one building to a class in the other. The resulting traffic jam occurs every 40 minutes.

Located between the Throggs Neck and Whitestone bridges, the 1890 building is an elegant 4 story Victorian structure, originally built as a grand private residence with spectacular water views from a large covered veranda.

The 1960 building is a 2-story brick structure of utilitarian design typical of the period. It was placed up against the older structure without any contextual or physical connection. "This was just before the old Penn Station was torn down, when the value of historic preservation was not really appreciated," said Coogan. "In fact, the next phase of the 1960 plan was to tear the mansion down and replace it with another box," added Youngren.

The school asked the architects to create a master plan for the future growth of the school. This would include upgrading the Louis Pasteur era science laboratories as well as improving accessibility and circulation.

The architects started off by analyzing the typical school day. They found a haphazard schedule arranged around room sizes and availability rather than subject or proximity. Teachers carved out office space wherever they could find it, including an unused bathroom. They proceeded to organize the rooms by academic departments, with classrooms and support offices arranged together. New corridors and stairs were arranged to improve the circulation between buildings, and an elevator was added for accessibility. The new plans placed the upgraded science labs above the existing boiler and locker room, taking advantage of the sweeping views of the Long Island Sound. The lab addition replaces the blank boiler room wall with a glass façade, complementing the mansion's building, frame, lawn and water view. In addition, OCV is investigating using wind turbines to harness the frequent breezes off the Sound to create sustainable energy.

Construction is scheduled to begin this spring, pointing to a bright future for Preston High School.

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Richard Vitto
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