Gratts Primary Center and Early Education Center, Los Angeles


Gratts Primary Center and Early Education Center, Los Angeles
Gratts Primary Center and Early Education
Center, Los Angeles, California
Gratts Primary Center and Early
­ ducation Center is named for a Los
Angeles community activist and volunteer children’s advocate who was
dedicated to creating a safe community
where all children, regardless of their
background or ethnic heritage, could
thrive and have a bright future. Evelyn
Thurman Gratts, a petite AfricanAmerican woman, lived in the Westlake
district of Los Angeles until her death in
1996. When she lived there, Westlake
was a community of many cultures,
including African-American, Asian,
Hispanic and European.
Gratts Primary Center and Early
Education Center is a fitting tribute to
her vision, as it provides an educational
foundation for all of the children of the
neighborhood and a place where the
community can gather for meetings,
sporting events, and other public events. 14
Gratts replenishes education in one of
Los Angeles’s most dense urban neighborhoods just west of Downtown, and
it strengthens the bond between school
and community.
To accomplish these objectives,
a joint-use among multiple school
programs and the surrounding community was established. The Los
Angeles ­Unified School District,
NAC|Architecture, New Schools/Better
Neighborhoods, and A Community of
Friends (a non-profit organization that
provides low-income housing) teamed
up throughout the design process to
ensure a tight bond among the new
school, the new affordable housing to
the north, and the surrounding residential neighborhood. The school was
designed with the intention of almost
complete public access to the school
after hours for a variety of community
purposes. The school’s functional spaces
were strategically placed to facilitate
maximum usage by the surrounding
community. For example, the multipurpose room has separate access directly
from the street; the playground has
a gate separate from the school entry
and restrooms that can be used even
when the school is closed. The idea of
joint-use was embedded in the design
process and reflects Los Angeles Unified
School District’s constant dedication
to ­academic excellence, community
services, and providing a safe and secure
learning environment.
A diverse program, a limited budget,
and a 2.19-acre site with a dynamic
slope of 40 feet invited these programs
to shift and overlap each other. To
accommodate the site conditions, the
design stacks three levels, nestling them
into the slope. The spaces are arranged
so that each of the three stories exits
directly to the outdoors, enhancing the
safety of the young children. Parking
is partly submerged, and playgrounds
CASH Register • September 2011
are accessible on each of the three levels;
the Kindergarten playground is a protected area on the roof of the parking
structure, and there is play space above
the lunch shelter. This approach fully
uses the small site and maximizes the
functional spaces and interaction with
the surrounding community. What
these intentional placements unveil is
a softening of the urban edge; a diverse
array of usable outdoor communal and
teaching spaces, as well as a refreshing
openness underneath the impressive
downtown skyline beyond.
The Early Education Center, a
state-licensed daycare facility located on
the south end of the site, houses 176
preschool students. The Early Education Center is programmed at 12,620
square feet and provides 13,000 square
feet of outdoor play area for students.
The Primary Center is programmed at
33,942 square feet with 1.4 acres of play
area. Located above and to the north of
the Early Education Center, it houses
380 students ranging from Kindergarten
to second grade. Joint-use spaces, such
as the multipurpose building and upper
play yard, are geared to spark a social
optimism and lay a canvas for students
and local residents to build upon.
The school is designed to tread lightly
on the environment. The project is
located on a previously built-out brownfield site, so no greenfield was disturbed.
The building is sited to take full advantage of its location, making use of the
steeply sloped site to achieve a multistory building with on-grade access to
all levels and minimizing its footprint. The design features integrated building
systems and environmentally conscious
solutions such as orientation, a screen
of recyclable fiber composite material,
“Trespa,” recyclable steel studs, and
CMU manufactured locally. Drought
tolerant plants are irrigated with rainsensing controllers. Interior finishes are
low- and no-VOC. Low-flush toilets
and metered lavatory faucets are used
throughout. As a result, the school
exceeds the requirements for a California High Performance Schools (CHPS)
What reveals itself is a socially and
environmentally sustainable learning
CASH Register • September 2011
environment. It converts an urban
space otherwise perceived as limited into
a valuable community asset, creating a
real “pride of place.”
Gratts Primary Center and Early
Education Center was recognized with
a 2008 Leroy F. Greene Design and
Planning Award of Honor for a Project
in Design, jointly awarded by American Institute of Architects California
Council (AIACC) and the Coalition for
Adequate School Housing (C.A.S.H.). The jury said:
“This is a really beautiful project on a
tight, steeply sloping urban site that extensively engaged stakeholders from community advocacy, to the council district, to the
educational community, to the neighbors.
This project transformed this site into an
amazing series of learning spaces for the
students. Planners created a facility that is
simple, playful, fun and really inviting. It’s
a wonderful sustainable urban design that
creates a more visible public space for the
students and for the educators.” Project
Owner: Los Angeles Unified School District
Architect: NAC|Architecture

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