Principals and Architects Collaborate on School Design

Rescheduled due to Superstorm Sandy, a diverse audience of educators, city officials, and architects convened at the Center for Architecture on 01.07.13 to listen to three pairings of school principals and architects discuss the collaborative design process. These recently constructed New York City schools – Frank Sinatra School of the Arts, Stephen Gaynor School, and The School of Civic Leadership – all featured in the Center’s current exhibition, “The Edgeless School: Design for Learning,” are regarded as local examples of this concept.

Susan T. Rodriguez, FAIA, Partner, Ennead Architects, and Donna Finn, Principal, Frank Sinatra School of the Arts, were first to speak about their partnership in developing the specialized public arts high school in Long Island City, Queens. Placing the visual arts, dance, and music studios along the façade of the building creates a billboard for the instruction going on inside, and connects the school with the neighborhood’s rich history with entertainment, including the Kaufman Astoria Studios across the street, and Astoria native Tony Bennett, who was instrumental in the school’s founding (pun intended).

Marta Sanders, AIA, Associate, Rogers Marvel Architects, and Dr. Scott Gaynor, Head of School, Stephen Gaynor School, then shared their process in developing a new facility for the Gaynor School, an independent school in Manhattan for students ages 3 to 14 with learning challenges. It was imperative that the design create a nurturing yet focused environment, enabling individualized attention and building self-esteem for its young learners. One example of this is the central staircase, which serves as an organizing feature with its varied colors, viewpoints, and spaces for informal moments. The interaction around the staircase provides multiple opportunities for students to connect outside the classroom.

Paul Broches, FAIA, Partner, Mitchell Giurgola Architects, and Rose Kerr, Principal, The School of Civic Leadership (SISCL), PS 861 presented the K–8 school in Staten Island. Their partnership was unique in that Mitchell Giurgola was designing a school for an unknown client using a generic school program based on the requirements of the NYC School Construction Authority. Simultaneously, Kerr was proposing a new school centered around community service and collaborative teaching models. Mitchell Giurgola’s concept school meshed well with SISCL’s philosophy, as the campus was designed with a village square at its central core, sunlight-filled hallways, and hybrid classroom-social spaces.

All three school principals agreed that their respective school’s design facilitated their students’ ability to maximize their potential, whether it was artistically, civically, or developmentally. Everyone also concurred that the new facilities increased their public visibility and developed their schools as major sites of community engagement. In each of these examples, the school’s pedagogy is supported and expressed by its architecture and, in turn, has effectively shaped and created unique learning environments.

The Foundation would like to thank the Japan Foundation Center for Global Partnership and the Committee on Architecture for Education for their support of this program. The Foundation will also hold two exhibition tours of “The Edgeless School: Design for Learning“ on 03.03.13 and 04.23.13. To register, and for more information about the Center for Architecture Foundation’s public programs and other educational offerings for schools, adults, and families, please visit

Event: Making a School: Principals and Architects in Conversation
Location: Center for Architecture, 01.07.13 (Rescheduled)
Panelists: Susan Rodriguez, FAIA, Partner, Ennead Architects; Donna Finn, Principal, Frank Sinatra School of the Arts; Marta Sanders, AIA, Rogers Marvel Architects; Dr. Scott Gaynor, Head of School, Stephen Gaynor School; Paul Broches, FAIA, Partner, Mitchell Giurgola Architects; Rose Kerr, Principal, The School of Civic Leadership, PS 861 Staten Island; Catherine Teegarden, Director of Education, Center for Architecture Foundation (Moderator)
Sponsors: Japan Foundation Center for Global Partnership