e3 Civic High

San Diego, California

Innovative urban school design supports school’s curriculum

A new charter high school on the sixth and seventh floors of the San Diego Central Library expands the boundaries of a traditional high school in curriculum and campus design.

The nation’s first school within a library, “e3” stands for engage, educate and empower through civic partnership. While students take advantage of the public library collections and amenities, such as computer labs, TV studio and 3-D printer, the school and library are physically separate. The school has its own ground-level entrance and lobby, elevators and stairwell.

The design enhances personalization, experimentation, social connections and flexibility. Studios, or classrooms, for 500 students are arranged in “villages” around transparent shared learning spaces. An interactive wall connecting the villages enables students to present projects and test ideas in what would otherwise be a blank, static hallway. The ninth through 12th graders can also shape their own individual environments, as needed, with pull-out pockets and displays. The school is wired to support hand-held devices and technological advances, ensuring currency and adaptability.

Designers also met the need for a supportive home base for students who take classes at local colleges and universities and tackle internships in the surrounding downtown community. The Park “living room” and The Plaza are contrasting large communal spaces. The former is for passive use, with soft furniture and controllable lighting, while the latter is an active area for performance, presentations and dining. Even the wide staircase that connects the school’s two floors serves multiple functions, including socializing, collaborating and physical education classes.

The LEED Gold-certified, 70,000-square-foot project is also a model for sustainability for next-generation education. Building materials are recycled and low-maintenance. Natural daylighting and city views enrich the studios that hug the building’s perimeter to conserve energy and create brighter spaces.

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