Project Hazelwood


- WHAT -

A project based learning school

- WHEN -

Jan - May '16


Pittsburgh, PA


Middle school is a pivotal point in a student's life. A period of transition. Just the same, the site sits at the apex of change. Caught between two sides of Hazelwood, PA, the school is both the junction through which things meet, and the junction through which things change. How they change, and in what ways, is what this school strives to define.

CONTEXT | Hazelwood, PA

Historically an industrial neighborhood, Hazelwood, PA was previously home to iron and steel industries, railroading, boatbuilding and the river trade. By the 1950s the neighborhood was host to over 200 businesses, and home to a largely Irish and Eastern European population. With the construction of the Civic Arena and urban redevelopment in the Hill District, large populations of African-Americans began to make Hazelwood their home. With the decline of the steel industry and closing of many factories in the 1980s, businesses and many residents began to pack  up and leave the area. Today the neighborhood faces a food desert, a lack of business and industry, and a looming redevelopment that could bring the neighborhood out of its depression, and/or completely uproot and destroy the community and its residents. 

PROGRAMMING | Questioning the Paradigm

As is typical of many schools, a project based learning school has some very specific program requirements. Despite this specificity, these spaces tend to be able to play host to a number of different activities, also typical of many schools. Because of the nature of this school, many of the resources it provides for the students are unique and special, resources that a neighbor such as Hazelwood would also also greatly benefit from. For these reasons, the programatic organization of the school is designed with use by the community in mind. A split level entrance, utilizing the natural slope along Hazelwood Ave., address two different traffic flows, one for student entry, one for community entry. Both entrance lead to the central core, connecting the building between floors. 

The open nature also carries with it ideas of flexibility. As technologies and needs change, open spaces are reprogrammable and reconfigurable, whether in the distant future to address large systemic changes or in the near future to accommodate for a special event or lesson plan. This flexibility allows the school to function as more than another single use, civic building. It can accommodate a number of uses and demographics, at different times and in different capacities. Open spaces also conducive to passive surveillance of activity, reducing the need for direct lines of sight, instead favoring auditory surveillance. 


Open space was heavily emphasized throughout the building as a means of both physical and visual connection. The regular column grid "provides the key to the transition and connection between areas with divergent territorial claims and as a place in its own right, it constitutes, essentially, the spatial condition for the meeting and dialogue between areas of different orders." The openness also lends itself to passive surveillance of the spaces, able to hear what is going on in different parts of the school. The clear corridor from the ground floor up provides a sunlit space for symbolic and actual introspection as students pass from one floor to the next.


The 20' x 20' concrete column and slab grid is more than a fiscally pragmatic approach to structure. The order, and repetition of the structure operate at a scale that speaks to the students and teachers occupying the building. Defining and creating space without prescribing how it is to be used.  Spaces remain open and free, with the flexibility of being temporarily closed down as the activity in an area changes.

The angular columns at the ground level engage the sidewalk and street, as they pull away from the building and craft a space in behind them. This draws a connection between open interior space and the newly defined space of the sidewalk through the transparency of the glazing.

FORMAL LOGIC | Street Relations

The buildings form is interested in connection, bridging divides, and turning corners for the community. The formal gestures around the corners are interested in connecting divergent flows as the landscape changes elevations. The corner entrances pull the two circulation flows into the central core, connecting the student user with the community user.

On the top floor, the studios are positioned around the center core with views projecting outwards. The 6th graders are positioned with a view towards the historical part of the neighborhood, the 7th graders looking down the current business corridor for Hazelwood and the 8th graders looking out across the future site of the ALMONO development, symbolically aging and transitioning with the neighborhood. The internal core provides a space for introspection, asking the students to look in towards themselves after looking out.


The buildings facade opens and closes positioning the building both as a storefront for making and providing students the privacy necessary for leaning. The windows keyframe specific views out for each studio on the top floor and create box seating around that key view.The perforated facade blurs the line between open and closed, continuing the theme of internal and external thinking and connection.


This project aims to question the typical educational paradigm, investigating the open classroom concept of the 70's with an updated pedagogical platform. Studio spaces challenge the authoritarian proportions of time-honored orthodox education,  creating small spaces that remove the dichotomy of teacher and student. On the 3rd floor, students are asked to THINK and MAKE. The THINK studio looks to have students read, write, and discuss, as a way of critically analyzing the what and the why. The MAKE studio asks students to create and problem solve at a small scale, diving into details. The BUILD studio has students think and create at a full scale, learning from the realities of building.


think. make. build.