ROBERT F KENNEDY
Architect of Record:
Gonzalez Goodale Architects
Sited on the mega-block of the former Ambassador Hotel, (and the site of Kennedy's assasination), the K-12 campus was a 10-year effort on behalf of a community urgently in need of a walkable school.
Impeding forces included an extended EIR process, the LA Conservancy, Mid-Wilshire businesses, lawyers, and elected officials - many of whom brought uncompromising design constraints and overlays.
With the EIR requiring a reprise of the original hotel's setback and frontal profile, the principal design ethos sought to reverse the historic patterns of privilege:
The site had - through the 20th century - served as an LA retreat for the national and international elite. Suitably, the regal topographic beauty of this site, now serves as an educational home for public K-12 students, many of whom are the children of working class immigrants.
The north face of the high school is clad continuously in glass, opening a literal connection between classrooms and Wilshire Boulevard - and providing student views to the Hollywood Hills and its sign. The dramatic topographic advantage of the site also provides quad and classroom views out over the downtown skyline and the city to the south, east, and west.
The school, overall, has affirmed an educational design philosophy that holds: If we provide educational environments that respect and celebrate students, then those students will respond in kind to their hosting.
Initially thought to be the most vulnerable component - an interpretive re-statement of the original Cocoanut Grove as a student theatre - the drama students, in particular, successfully adopted the space and its ongoing maintenance.
Similarly, the original vision of the school as a fenceless continuum of K-12 students awakened fears of daily bullying and exploitation.
In fact, many of the students come from extended families, where cross-age mentoring, play, and guidance is a tradition. Using the site's topography and territorial zoning of building form, age and grade separations are maintained subtly, without high internal fences and barriers.
The frontal line of the school, along the Wilshire sidewalk, is given over to a sunken park, which buffers the playground areas, and provides a distinct environment set off from the busy sidewalk. Dedicated to Robert Kennedy, and more broadly to ideas of social justice activism, the park was a collaboration between the architect, Ahbe Landscape Architects, and the public artists, May Sun and Richard Wyatt.
While the park's maintenance and policing have, almost since opening, been exemplary of public neglect and disinvestment, it stands as one of the few places of free pedestrian reprieve and retreat along the Boulevard in the Mid-Wilshire district.