Griffin School is a college preparatory high school located in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Austin, TX. The school’s diverse, liberal arts curriculum and creative student body define its reputation. For many years the school has occupied an assemblage of buildings in a residential neighborhood. The campus consists of a repurposed church, a house converted to classrooms, and a small workshop. To accommodate growing enrollment and to create an environment that embodies their core values, Griffin School added a new two-story classroom building to the existing ensemble.
Project Name: Griffin School
Studio Name: Legge Architecture
Project size: 5200 ft2
Completion date: 2017
Building levels: 2
Location: Austin, United States
Photography: Leonid furmansky
The new master plan transforms the eclectic group of structures into a cohesive, vibrant campus by uniting them around a quadrangle. The new building forms the northern boundary, enclosing a central courtyard. This new concentrated public space facilitates the daily movement of students and faculty while also showcasing the various academic and leisure activities of the students – instrument practice, Ping-Pong, basketball, lounging, studying, shop projects, and outdoor classes are all on display. These highly visible activities form the beating heart of the campus.
The new building enhances the social character of the school by encouraging engagement. In a nod to Texas vernacular buildings, a generous, deeply shaded south-facing porch opens up to the courtyard, providing a comfortable place to shelter from the summer heat and bask in the winter sun. Farther into the building, the central corridor opens up visually to the porch and courtyard beyond through a long expanse of windows.
Finally, an exterior stair protruding into the courtyard offers an elevated perspective of the campus. In high schools the hallway and stairwell circulation spaces are vibrant social spaces. Here they form the north edge of the quadrangle, fueling the social interaction of this central space. Throughout the building, unexpected moments of visual connections to specific places in the campus appear. These connections reinforce the social experience of movement through, around, and between buildings.
An engaging and interactive community exists within Griffin School, and the new building strives to cultivate and inspire its creative aspirations. The design employs modest materials in surprising ways to sculpt light, space and movement into rich, tactile experiences. On the ground floor, exposed trusses and wall framing elements reveal the structural bones of the building, adding contrasting texture to expanses of clean white walls and exposed concrete floors. The sloping underside of the gable roof contains the upper floor, creating the intimate feeling of being within the attic of a house. Rather than the straight-laced character of a typical school, the Griffin School building has the airy roughness of an art studio or workshop.
The new building responds to its residential neighborhood context through a combination of aesthetic and formal gestures to reduce its scale and help it fit in. Its basic form draws on traditional residential elements: a brick base with an iconic gable profile on top, which also echoes the tall gable of the existing church building on campus. The design orients the gable end towards the street and the facade steps back on the second floor, presenting the smallest face of the building to the neighborhood.
The second floor is contained entirely within the gable shape, which allows the eaves to be lowered closer to the ground, effectively reducing the building’s scale. A series of dormers, set into the roof, allow for more usable space within the sloped gable while providing light. The dormers range in size from small in the classrooms to the largest on the south side, which contains the 2nd floor student lounge and overhangs the courtyard space to create a shady porch area.