To do justice to its mission as a public institution, the school campus also incorporates a public theater that seats nearly 1,000 visitors, a facility that has previously been missing in downtown Los Angeles’ cultural offer. The school is organized into four academies and comprises seven buildings: the theater building, library, cafeteria, and four classroom buildings — one for each of the artistic disciplines taught there.
The design concept was to employ architectural signs to communicate the Los Angeles community’s commitment to art. The point of departure for the urban arrangement of the buildings was the central and visually exposed location of the site, at the intersection of Grand Avenue and the 101 Freeway — one of the most heavily traveled roads crossing downtown Los Angeles. The orthogonal layout of the four classroom buildings gains additional spatial tension through the placement of the library building, the lobby and the theater tower – each acting like pieces on a chessboard. These three structures supplement the programs of the school by adding a pubic dimension to it, thus transforming the dynamics of the campus and creating new relationships to the city, both programmatically and physically.
The urban design strategy is based on the game of chess: a metaphor for a city in which buildings act as “agents” charged with “moves”, and have the potential to transform the urban landscape.
The four classroom buildings mark the orthogonal spatial boundaries of the schoolyards. Each of the functional bar-shaped constructions houses an academy with classrooms, studios, workshops and administrative spaces. They all follow a double-loaded organization along a central corridor that also functions as a gallery. The generous stairways offer vantage points for lingering and orientation.
The library is placed centrally, in the middle of the schoolyard, as a symbol for learning and knowledge. The structure in the shape of a tilted truncated cone is illuminated by natural light entering through a round skylight, which provides the interior with an atmosphere of contemplation and concentration. Through its angled and diagonal orientation relative to the classroom buildings, this circular building influences the visual relationships and the flow of movement through the campus.
In addition to its emblematic entrance through the public lobby, which also provides direct access to the theater, the school’s main entrance is located at the intersection of Grand Avenue and Cesar Chavez Avenue, facing the city. From there, a 24-meter-wide outdoor flight of stairs, framed by two of the bar-shaped buildings, leads to the school’s central courtyard, with the conical library in the middle, and the theater and tower in the background — symbolically setting the stage to one of the most important phases in the students’ lives and education.
The theater complex for the performing arts consists of a foyer, a main auditorium with orchestra pit, a stage and fly tower, a backstage, the Black Box Theater, a scenery workshop and an amphitheater with a staging area. In addition to its use for educational purposes, the theater — which is suitable both for drama (spoken word) and performances with electronically amplified music or orchestral concerts – is open to the public and can also be rented by other institutions, thus providing the school with additional income.
A tower with a spiral ramp in the shape of the number nine rises above the theater’s fly tower and serves as a widely visible symbol for art in the city.
By virtue of its central location, the school becomes part of an ensemble of cultural institutions along the Grand Avenue cultural corridor, and takes its place among the cultural institutions of the area, namely the Walt Disney Concert Hall, the Music Center, the Colburn School, the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), and the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels.