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John Brown Francis School

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1954, MacConnell and Walker. 325 Miantonomo Dr.

One of the innumerable post–World War II suburban elementary schools cast in the mold of Eliel and Eero Saarinen's Crow Island School in Winnetka, Illinois, this structure is a particularly nice example of the type. The local firm of MacConnell and Walker designed nearly all of the schools built in Warwick after the war. They eventually settled on a formula for turning out one-story brick-clad structures with far-flung, asymmetrically arranged wings counterbalanced by tall, broad slab chimneys. In the Francis School, the most distinctive example, the firm embellished the formula with an angled assembly room/auditorium wing and a sundial on the chimney. Classrooms, scaled to the size of children five to eleven years old, are strung along one or both sides of long corridors. They have high, canted roofs that leave space for glass-block clerestories rising above the flat-roofed corridors. Together with the glass-block and awning window strips on the exterior walls, this arrangement was intended to provide all classrooms with bilateral natural light. Sadly, maintenance problems caused by cracking glass blocks and leaky roof joints have caused the clerestories as well as the glass strips on the outer walls to be blocked up.

Though the building was economically constructed using concrete block, glazed tile, linoleum, steel, and glass, its planning shows a generosity of spirit toward those who spend their daytime hours inside, an effort to make the surroundings as comfortable and pleasant as possible. MacConnell and Walker's schools were the product of an ideal for accommodating and educating schoolchildren and a testament to the community's care for and commitment to its youngest citizens. The real quality of these buildings, which won recongnition in the architectural press at the time of their construction ( Progressive Architecture, August 1951 and March 1955), stands out in marked contrast to the humdrum additions that were stuck onto many of them in the 1960s and 1970s. Perhaps their true historical and architectural value will be recognized and appreciated before additional alterations detract further from this marvelous body of work.

Writing Credits

Author: 
William H. Jordy et al.
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Citation

William H. Jordy et al., "John Brown Francis School", [Warwick, Rhode Island], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—, http://sah-archipedia.org/buildings/RI-01-WA2.

Print Source

Buildings of Rhode Island, William H. Jordy, with Ronald J. Onorato and William McKenzie Woodward. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004, 318-319.

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