Archive Monthly Archives: March 2019

How architecture rebuilds more than just a school.

Healing from trauma takes mental health professionals, support of family and friends, and architecture? Sandy Hook did just that.

Sandy Hook school design was like many other schools across the country built in that time period; lots of brick, rectangular glass, cold steel. Very austere.

What was created in those months, was nothing more than magic. By erasing the horrific past, a phoenix rose from the proverbial ashes in design, light and color!

“Newtown decided it was best to demolish the Sandy Hook school and erect a new building on the same property. The town organized a search to find an architect to design it on a tight 20-month schedule, using $50 million given to the town by the state of Connecticut.” – Courtesy of Architect Magazine

Sandy Hook Architects transform a place of horror, into a place for inspiration and education to flourish.
The old school building was, “a square donut” with a grassy opening at the center. That courtyard was home to the duck family, and was much beloved, so one committee meeting was devoted to figuring out how the NEW courtyards could be incorporated, which is designed more like an airport, than a school.

After interviewing numerous architectural firms, the community decided on Svigals + Partners’. The importance of community, textures, shapes, nature, color, functionality, but most importantly the design is to lift the hearts and minds. The uplifting of spirit started from the get-go.

“I’m thinking all these architects are going to come in with stuffy suits and tell us how it’s going to be done,” remembers Anzellotti, who’s been a custodian with the school system in Newtown for 15 years. “At the very first meeting we sat there and they went to each person individually, in front of everybody, and said, ‘What did this school represent to you? What does this town represent to you?’ I thought that was pretty cool. Everybody shouted out ideas. They didn’t knock anything down, they just listened to everybody.” –Courtesy of Architect Magazine

Curves, waves textures and colors invite you into the new Sandy Hook School.

Svigals insists, “We can’t remember who made any of the decisions. It was so collectivized. For instance, Sandy Hook, which is a small village within the larger municipality of Newtown, is knit together by a series of footbridges across the Pootatuck River. The river and the bridges were one of the things many of the townspeople said they loved.”

Taking inspiration from the surrounding nature, the footbridge motif was created for the school. To enter the school you’ll have to cross 1 of 3 footbridges, a design that also ensures that everyone is forced to approach the building along 1 of 3 well-watched pathways. Simple calculations to the building’s overall design to address security concerns. The approach to security, according to McFadden, was driven by a concept called Criminal Prevention Through Environmental Design, which stresses openness and clear sightlines over ‘bunker-building’.

The final interior design is nothing short of awe-inspiring!

In the last 11 decades, scientific studies have proven that human-environment-reaction in the architectural environment is, to a large percentage, based on the sensory perception of color. In short, it confirms that human response to color is total – it influences us psychologically and physiologically. One of the most amazing results concerning color, is its consistency cross-culturally and around the globe. From women to men, adults to children, and even monkeys to humans, show that color is an international language understood by all.

The end result back at Sandy Hook Elementary is a fascinating study in what happens when an architecture firm invests its ego not in the formal attributes of its buildings, but in the quality of its community collaboration with all the people, young and old, who will use them.

Or as Anzellotti puts it, “It’s almost like we worked for them. That’s how they made us feel. It was really comfortable.”