LAUSD High School for the Visual and Performing Arts (HS #9) is part of a wave of construction that is revitalizing downtown Los Angeles. The project distinctively marks one end of the Grand Avenue Cultural Corridor, linking the local arts community with some of the city’s most notable cultural and architectural landmarks including the Colburn School of Music, Museum of Contemporary Art, and Walt Disney Concert Hall. HS #9 addresses the context with unique and dynamic forms that celebrate the architectural distinction of the development along Grand Avenue. It preserves the urban edge with a strong architectural statement, while creating a protected interior space dedicated to educating the school’s students.
HS #9 has been master planned on the small learning community (SLC) model. This SLC-based program allows for individualized development and tailored curricula within the overall academic context. Four communities, each consisting of 450 students, participate in general academic classes in addition to specialized arts courses, which are supported by art studios, dance and music rehearsal spaces, a black box theater, and a 950-seat full-scale theater. State-of-the-art technology in these instructional, rehearsal, and performance spaces the creative and educational program objectives.
Situated atop one of the highest points in downtown, the campus design responds to a 40-foot grade differential by using the building forms as transitional elements (for example the Cafeteria structure forms the site stairs and an amphitheater) while maintaining an accessible path of travel. The site is divided into several planes, which in turn create functional zones. Public access is at the pedestrian grade, while classrooms are set above street level. A distinct plaza level and a recreational field level create different kinds of outdoor learning and gathering environments.
A ceremonial entrance along Grand Avenue welcomes the community in the form of a grand staircase leading across a courtyard to a crystalline lobby that serves as both the theater gateway and an exhibition area for student work. This space is the key point of integration for weaving together the public and the students.
Throughout the process, the architect of record worked with the design consultant, multiple stakeholders, and user groups to define the educational program. Numerous meetings with parent, students, faculty, district administrators, and city leaders resulted in a cohesive vision for the design team. One of the key design goals was to anchor the artistic nature of the school’s program to the district’s fundamental instructional needs and educational goals. Common spaces, such as corridors and stairwells, were designed for dual use as exhibition areas by creating (and lighting) space for art displays.