Success Academy Charter Schools is a high-performing charter school network in New York City, operating in the public school system, currently with 24 elementary schools, 7 middle schools and 1 high school. Founded and run by Eva Moskowitz the schools outperform nearly every NYC Public School as well as 95%-99% of the schools in NY State. It is an achievement nothing short of remarkable.
As the first class of High School scholars was readying to move into a new school, we helped Success create a new environment reflecting the academic and educational approach and reinforcing the aspirations of the scholars. These are college bound students, often the first in their family to reach college.
The idea was sparked when a principal described the school as a mashup of classical foundations and a high tech approach to learning. The focus of the High School scholar is College, looking forward not backward, an aspiration that we characterized visually in a tradition, solid wood, classical academic furniture fashion. The technological component was, by way of contrast, light, clean, modern and simple.
For the classrooms the combination of these two aspects of the Success Academy High School was rather literal; a dark, wood, book laden classical lower half of the classroom contrasted with the white, upper, smartboard filled field of vision.
This visual organization of space and information was more sophisticated than a typical High School, and easier on the eyes as well. It became a talking point for visits to the school and a way to explain an educational approach in a neatly packaged visual brand.
The shared public spaces (hallways, bathrooms, specialty rooms, offices) demanded another approach. Not only was the High School located in a 1970’s building of questionable aesthetic quality (to put it nicely) but the materials in the public halls was very strongly defined and immutable.
We had fun with a few allusions, a few special moments and a game of contrasts that reframed the visual landscape. All schools have beige floors, but we used black as a way to bring out the color in the bland tile walls. Lighting in the halls was given its own character with overscaled circular light fixtures and non-repetitive patterns.
Because every college bound student should experience the ‘quad’ we inserted a north and south green of photographic floor tiles of grass. Recessed that formerly held lockers were converted to two person study niches (the restriction against intruding into the clear 10’ wide corridor width for safety and egress reasons kept them quite flat).
As the school layout had an east and west nearly indistinguishable corridor we subtly color coded the door frames to give scholars a subconscious visual orientation. And each classroom had an accent of color that continued outside each of two doors to each space. These color codes are the way that rooms have a subtle exterior expression while keeping the halls very clean and open.
An continuous hallway ‘information band’ above student head height gave every teacher and administrator a place to organize information without introducing visual chaos into the busy hallways. The horizontal row of video monitors seen upon entry every day fit within this band and quickly give everyone the information they need to start their day.
Specialty rooms like the lecture hall, reading room, Fab Lab (as in fabrication laboratory) are each treated with some intensified version of the brand elements. The Fab Lab uses round lights, a bright orange floor and blue display shelving. The lecture hall’s wooden chairs are all bright orange on a blue carpet. And the bathrooms shun color for a pixilated pattern of white, black and gray square wall tiles.
Finally, to keep college ever present, but subtly so, we added hundreds of college names to individual wall tiles in the hallway. When a student is accepted and attends a college that label is filled in with black type and the student’s name and college graduation year. Leaving Success Academy doesn’t mean you are gone from the collective memory of the school, it simply means you have gone to the next level of your education but remain an example to all the younger scholars who follow.
To see our redesign of the High School's third floor expansion, click here.