LA site steeped in history transformed into Robert F. Kennedy Community School

The Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools, which celebrated its ribbon cutting 13th November, 2010, houses 4,200 students in an integrated K-12 of six pilot schools on a 24-acre site. This site, in L.A.'s Mid-Wilshire District, was formerly the Myron-Hunt designed Ambassador Hotel where RFK was assassinated in 1968.

Designed by Gonzalez Goodale Architects, the project marks a distinct shift in typology for California public schools, which have primarily been ‘one-off' designs devoid of urban context. This campus aggressively embraces both urban history and urban fabric. By responding to the grids and axes of the surrounding city - and of the hotel that was once seated in it - the school provides cinematic viewpoints both outside-in and inside-out that reward the school's inhabitants with a sense of urban connection and continuity.

The principal challenge of this project was to synthesise the aspirations of a vast range of stakeholders while still forging a work that retains coherence and integrity. The establishment of broad initial principles and values among the client-planning team - related to urbanism, joint use, urgency of school seats, and the pedagogical combination of both campus integration and campus decentralisation - provided a framework around which project leadership could cohere and make sound decisions in the face of single-interest advocacies.

A second - physical - challenge was to overcome the divorce of the site's original grading from the city street system, and to literally re-ground the site's perimeter. Bringing the southerly portion of the site (the K-5 Pilot Schools) down 30inches to the level of 8th Street required a substantial investment in re-grading.

Through design, the resultant grade differences within the site became opportunities through which to introduce barrier-less and subtle separations between pilot schools- specifically a series of grand terraces descending from the main quad to the K-5 play area and its multi-purpose performance proscenium.

A third challenge, in collaboration with LAUSD's project managers, was to move the District towards new models of sustainable architecture, including: super high-density site utilisation; indoor-outdoor program and spaces; under-floor and displacement ventilation for more healthy air delivery; a central mechanical plant; single-ply high albedo roofing; triple-glazing at exposed street conditions; and rapidly renewable/cork, rubber, and linoleum flooring.

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