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Gordon School

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1963, 1970 and later. William D. Warner. 45 Maxfield Ave.

This private school is inspired by the paradigm of the self-contained classroom unit, each with its own courtyard, and all connected to one another by corridor spines. It was pervasive as a model for schools (elementary schools especially) in the 1950s and 1960s. As a school type, it was popularized by the Crow Island School in Winnetka, Illinois (Eliel and Eero Saarinen and Perkins, Wheeler, and Will, 1939–1940) and, as a concept, goes back at least to Richard Neutra's Bell School in Los Angeles (1935). Here the paradigm becomes a “village” cluster of “houses” made up of square-shaped units of various sizes, walled in concrete block, each with its pyramidal roof. The image derives most immediately, it would seem, from Louis Kahn's cluster of similar units for a well-publicized bathhouse in Trenton, New Jersey (1955). But enthusiasm for clustered village images was endemic at the time, enticing many architects to Italian hill towns and to picture tours of such African villages as those featured in Bernard Rudofsky's Architecture without Architects (1964) and the popular exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art which stemmed from it. The extra-diminutive scale of classrooms for the lowest grades is especially charming, with such thoughtful details throughout as blackboard walls in bathrooms to encourage creative graffiti. Later addenda and larger units by the same architect somewhat compromise the village intimacy of the original section, mostly by necessity, because the added units, such as a laboratory wing, library, and gymnasium bulk larger than the original classrooms, and the school expanded to include higher grades. The additions have also complicated the clarity of the original scheme, making the whole disorienting to the casual visitor, but perhaps all the more agreeable to those who come to know the place.

Writing Credits

Author: 
William H. Jordy et al.
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William H. Jordy et al., "Gordon School", [East Providence, Rhode Island], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—, http://sah-archipedia.org/buildings/RI-01-EP19.

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