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Excellence in Brick Award-winning Corpus Christi school demonstrates complex but ‘fun’ brickwork by Jaime Powell

In a once charming neighborhood now in desperate need of a facelift, the construction of an award-winning, new elementary school has ignited a long-awaited neighborhood revitalization. With input from Richter A rchitects, the Corpus Christi Independent School District chose to build the new Oak Park Special Emphasis School campus on Leopard Street, in the heart of one of Corpus Christi’s oldest and most established neighborhoods. The Richter team went to work siting the school to create a new gateway and green space entrance into the neighborhood. The school’s prime location is within easy walking distance for many of the young students in the neighborhood. “It’s not very often that you get to go back into an existing, old part of town and improve it,” says firm principal Elizabeth Chu Richter, FAIA. “The investment there is really twice as much as building in a new suburb. You already have history and presence.” At a campus where more than 95 percent of the students qualify for free or reduced meals, Richter Architects was determined to create an open and dignified place for teaching and learning. Part of the philosophy was to build with materials of earth tones that would create a neutral backdrop so that student creativity such as artwork could flourish. The D’Hanis brick chosen for the project was fundamental to the design concept. It offered a taste of Hispanic heritage in a city, with a predominantly Hispanic population and much in common with Mexico, which lies 120 miles to the south. “It has a real heritage here,” says Elizabeth Chu Richter. “The Hispanic heritage uses a lot of brick and terra cotta.” Elizabeth Chu Richter and David Richter, FAIA, played to the idea that the young students could appreciate the qualities of light, form, order, and genuine materials. “Sometimes school designs can be condescending,” David Richter says, explaining that Richter Architects approaches school design in


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Appearing as twisting tree trunks, columns at Oak Park Elementary’s entry canopy illustrate the architects’ description of brick as a ‘fun’ and ‘fluid’ building material.

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Texas Architect Jan/Feb 2007: Spaces for Learning