Pride in Design

Upon first stepping inside the new Edison High School Academic Building the eyes are drawn upward. The soaring windows and lofty ceiling are truly stirring in the abounding natural light. It is sure to be a spot that will exhilarate and inspire the students who walk the halls of this unique new construct.

Edison Technical High School was originally founded in 1906, just 21 years after Fresno, Calif., was incorporated as a city in 1885. Those who had originally traveled to central California in search of gold and adventure found the region’s soil rich for planting and settled to grow predominantly wheat and later stone fruit and raisins. The high school’s west Fresno neighborhood saw steady growth through the next 60 years. From its humble beginnings with just two buildings, the campus grew to include additional classroom wings — art and drama. On all sides, the school expanded to support the thriving community.

However, in 1972, the aging classroom building was demolished, triggering a great loss of identity for Edison High School. With the values and aspirations of the campus and community so intrinsically linked, after almost 30 years of decline, it became clear a defining change was necessary. Planning sessions were held to integrate the ideas and needs of administrators, staff, students, parents and members of the community into one cohesive Campus Master Plan.

The first new building to usher in this era of growth and pride for Edison High school is an iconic flagship for the changing campus. The dynamic new Academic Building holds cardinal value in the process of updating the architectural vernacular of the institution through all projected growth and modernizations yet to come. Additionally, it is through its completion, that the students, staff and community have begun to recapture that lost Edison High School identity.

It was the architect’s goal in working with the district and community to “build identity and find inspiration.” As such, It was important that the design features of the new building hearken back to the lost history of the school’s earlier days. One of the most significant features of the original classroom building to be incorporated in this new design were the exterior window rhythms and size. Nearly floor to ceiling and placed in symmetrical groupings throughout the façade, they allow for an open, naturally well-lit environment. This fit well with the goals of the district, as studies in recent years have shown that use of natural light in school buildings correlates with higher test scores and genuinely happier more productive learning.

According to a study by Heschong Mahone Group of Sacramento, that looked at 20,000 students in California, Colorado and Massachusetts in 1998 and 2002, test scores increased as much as 26 percent among students who learned in classrooms filled with natural light. This is obviously in addition to the reduction in overall electricity usage and utility costs.

Moving past the tall exterior windows and into the main foyer of the first floor, the ceiling opens high and grand. Punctuated by a natural wood accent wall of striated color pattern waterfalling from the ceiling to warm the space and provide a dramatic backdrop for the new Edison High School crest. This crest, too, was developed by the architects incorporating mention of the four specialized offerings for which Edison High School has been known (mathematics science, technology, arts), with the school crests featured on the façade of the original building.

As need for school security has unfortunately increased, the necessity that staff and teachers have “eyes on campus” has become of growing importance. To this end, the windows from each classroom facing inward upon the wide hallways are strategically placed at a height to allow a standing teacher to view out and supervise, while a seated student could not. Additionally, these windows were placed thoughtfully to permit additional natural light to pour through the clerestory window banks high above the second floor hallway and into classrooms and labs even on the first floor. The outcome is a space that provides both safety and comfort to the end user.

During the design and construction processes, it became clear that in the open second story space at the south entrance to the building there would have to be a large steel structural support beam. This was a slight setback, as the beam provided an unwanted eyesore to the otherwise understated and unique space. As a solution, the graphics department conceived a second use for the beam, as a canvas for what would become a motto to connect the theory of education with the relevance of learning. “Non scholae sed vitae discimus” — we learn not for school, but for life — is the phrase which greets the students each morning as they arrive or afternoon as they depart. In bold Edison yellow, the feature transforms the space and gives vital purpose to a necessary aspect of the design.

Moving though the building, another noticeable interior spec feature is the use of polished concrete floors rather than traditional VCT or carpet throughout. In recent years, this practice has become a trend in new school facilities due to the lower maintenance costs and minimized off-gassing. Traditional school flooring must be applied using noxious glues and wax maintained with harsh chemicals, while concrete need only be polished using standard cleaners. The main drawback, however, is a space that is audibly more wet or resonant, and so, not condusive to classroom lessons and casual speech. To mediate this, classroom and lab interior walls have incorporated a new acoustically enhanced gyp-board product deadening the sound of the rooms noticeably and providing an excellent lecture environment.

Disposing of outdated portable classrooms to make way for leading-edge technical labs, classrooms and learning spaces was of high priority:

  • As a magnet school for math and science it was important that the labs and standard classrooms matched and even exceeded technological standards, allowing for a project-based learning environment potential and future integration of state-of-the-art equipment.
  • Art classrooms and a lecture hall/presentation space were needed, allowing students to foster their expression and communication skills, while also providing a space for staff training and even community meetings.
  • A unique special education classroom should provide a space tailored to hands-on teaching, and be supportive of integration with the larger student body.

Designed and lead by Darden Architects, and built by Turner Construction, the project has now come to completion. With $12.3 million in combined funding (including an HPI incentive grant, PG&E savings by design grant, SFP Modernization & Growth, and ORG) and a bid amount of $11.8 million, non-district funding sources more than paid for the project.

The Academic Building establishes on the campus, a memorable and dramatic visual identity. In keeping with its technical background, a binary code environmental graphic pattern is woven onto the sunscreen used to shade the west-facing classrooms and is taken inside the building at strategic locations. In support of school spirit, the Edison “Tiger” yellow punctuates the building’s understated color scheme. With features like its abundant naturally illuminating clerestory windows and spacious classrooms and hallways, this high-performance, sustainably minded design will bring together the rich history and bright future of Edison High School.

As the 2013 C.A.S.H./AIACC Leroy F. Greene Design Award of Merit recipient for Project in Design, the new Academic Building at Edison High School is a progressive break through for this esteemed California institution and a symbol of change and pride for its students, staff and community.  

Phil Dietz is the Business Development Services coordinator at Darden Architects. He can be reached at [email protected].


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