Richard Meier & Partners Architects LLP

Clifty Creek Elementary School

Columbus, Indiana

1978 - 1982

This 72,000 square foot public school for kindergarten through grade six is built on sloping twenty-two acre site three miles from downtown Columbus. The three story wing at the site’s lower end stacks classrooms hierarchically under one roof. On each floor two symmetrical suites of four 900 square foot classrooms are partitioned with moveable walls, allowing for the combination of two classrooms. Each couplet shares a glass-walled area for independent, yet supervised work.

The compact classroom wing communicates by a system of ramps with the specialty and service areas contained in a large eroded square in plan. Each quadrant of this square contains a different activity center: library, cafeteria, gymnasium, and art and music rooms. The double height, north-lit library is adjacent to the classroom wing, and its central location is designed to encourage student use. The library also contains a free-form balcony for story-telling and more intimate reading. The ramp system runs directly along the south side of the library, and is flanked by a glass-pane wall affording views into an outdoor courtyard.

Across from the library and separated by the courtyard is the cafeteria, kitchen and services on the south side and a curved stage area at the west end for group presentations. The cafeteria’s canted, glass-paned, north wall allows views back and forth and allows transparent interpenetration of the two spaces, giving the stepped courtyard space in between a compressive energy.

The southeast quadrant contains physical education facilities. The northeast quadrant containing art and music rooms and special classrooms has a semicircular vestibule feeding off the main north entry.

This vestibule serves compositionally as the displaced center of the scheme. With the convex entry to the classroom wing at the west end of the building, it defines the main axis of circulation and primary horizontal datum. The terminus of this axis is indicated on the east elevation by a canopy over a secondary entry, while the horizontal datum is marked on the north and south elevations by change in coloration and material.

This combination of gestures suggests one of the design’s formal strategies: the pulling out of the academic wing from the square plan along the trajectory of the ramp allowing for the possibility of reading the classroom wing as a displaced fourth quadrant and the library/ramp/courtyard space as a tensile intermediary “void”. Such relationships make the architecture both dynamic and unified.

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