The historic Columbia Grammar and Preparatory School is sited on West 93rd and 94th Streets near Central Park West in New York City’s Upper West Side Historic District. This particular project was focused on West 94th Street, where a row of seven late 19th and early 20th century brownstones and townhouses contains the bulk of the lower school population. Since the buildings were only minimally updated the design program dealt with issues of making the buildings work as a fully integrated campus with accessible, modern egress and improving circulation within the buildings. The modernization of the facilities also encompassed new spaces such as a sunken gymnasium, a multi-tiered play space in the rear yard, and a science penthouse above three of the buildings.The facades on 94th street were painted battleship grey when we began work; the rear yard, instead of a concrete canyon, is now heavily landscaped contributing to the 'donut concept' of the blocks of the Upper West Side; The connection to Columbia Grammar's lower school on 93rd Street was much improved securing the notion of a 'campus'.
On the street facade, the old school entrance was undersized for the passage of roughly 400 students and parents every day. The entrance was therefore moved from the narrow bay it occupied to a double size bay adjacent. The widened entrance was provided with a new landscaped ramp and stair leading gently down from the sidewalk to the garden-level lobby. New wood doors and a glazed canopy work with the cues of the building's Romanesque Revival style.
In the rear yard, a new gymnasium was placed four feet below grade to reduce its visual and spatial impact. It’s fully glazed wall peeks out from beneath a double terraced parapet with extensive floral landscaping draping gracefully over its edges toward the center of the block and the west. Despite the low floor elevation, the glazing allows plentiful light into the gym space. The school’s children can take advantage of either of two play surfaces; one just outside of the gym or another on the garden roof. Children now clamber across the roof as they rush back and forth from classes on both sides of the block.
To provide accessible and code-compliant egress and circulation, a system of exterior walkways was erected at the back of the buildings. These loggia-like paths slope along the facades following the natural elevation differences between the building elevations and provide wonderful open views of the green, open center of the block. A new elevator tower clad in red-brick colored glass-fiber reinforced concrete panels provides easy access to all floors and the roof playspace above the new sunken gymnasium.
Above it all, at the roof of three of the buildings, a single story addition was created for two new science classrooms and a secluded rooftop science learning garden. The science rooms look south above the exterior walkways and play spaces below allowing plenty of sunlight to immerse these modern spaces.
The new Columbia Grammar School now shines with historic beauty and technical precision. It's façade effortlessly slips into the streetscape of West 94th Street and the rear yard developments preserve the open lushness at the center of the block while providing a much improved educational environment for students