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St. Thomas the Apostle School, California, United States – 2010- By Griffin Enright Architects.

This K-8 Catholic school in a densely populated part of the city sits on an extremely small site. The project is designed to achieve the maximum effect with limited resources, working with an economy of means to turn every constraint into an architectural opportunity.

A new pedestrian entry for students and families occurs along a ramp that rises up to the middle of the site and arrives in a large Urban Porch. This space will become a new nexus for the school, functioning in a variety of different ways including; accommodating an outdoor lunchroom, entry to the school, entry to the library, a second story balcony accessed from the new art room and existing classrooms above. The balcony will also provide become a pulpit / lectern for the larger religious occasions such as Easter. The Urban Porch provides a new identity for the school and parish within the City.

A new playground is stacked over parking, and a new driveway wraps around the perimeter of the site, providing a fire lane, a buffer for the school community, and an on-site drop-off in front of the ‘Urban Porch’. The new building, building housing a gym/multipurpose room, art room and library, is separated from the existing one to accommodate a phased construction and to allow light to reach the former basement of the existing building. The basement of the existing building was excavated providing new outdoor play areas for K, 1st, 2nd grades that is buffered from the older kids. Bridges, a stair and a new elevator connect the buildings and engage the covered outdoor space. Off-the-shelf trusses cantilever to create shaded outdoor gathering spaces, as part of a simple palate of cost-effective materials.

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