Electronic Thesis/Dissertation


Concrete Solutions: Architecture of Public High Schools During the "Urban Crisis" Open Access

This dissertation documents and contextualizes the creation of fortified, yet programmatically innovative, high schools designed between 1960 and 1980 in Atlanta, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C. The striking nature of the school designs - avant-garde in materiality, scale, programming, and plan - are testaments to the high ideals of education reform for urban cities that were battling the damaging effects of suburbanization, urban unrest, and riots.During the late 1950s city officials and school administrators were confronted with persistent de facto segregation that was exacerbated by the mass exodus of middle-class families to the suburbs. Urban crisis schools were intended to aid in the social and cultural renewal of economically depressed areas. While local school boards initially championed the construction of urban schools as harbingers of integration, this rhetoric gave way to school siting that reified lines of concentrated residential and educational segregation. Urban renewal plans of the 1950s followed by the riots of the 1960s left cities in shambles. School construction attempted to alleviate some of the problems that the riots and urban renewal caused. Community involvement in later renewal plans, administered through the Model Cities program, included schools as important design components. This changed the meaning of urban renewal from "Negro removal" to an opportunity for local non-profit and activist groups to restructure their immediate surroundings in a meaningful way.Ultimately, the design of the schools revealed a sentiment of fear about the urban condition and youth culture. At that time, however, the schools brought about a new definition of monumental architecture as a result of their Brutalist aesthetic expressed through materiality and massing. The open-plan school conflicted with the sculptural quality of the buildings that attempted to be secure and open simultaneously. The dissertation challenges the historic preservation and education communities to reassess value systems established for the preservation of African American cultural heritage. The history of these schools creates a critical juncture in the Civil Rights-Black Power narrative. This connection melds the milieu of urban upheaval, architectural design, and community politics of empowerment during a period of major paradigm shifts in the historiography of the American city.

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