Elizabeth Academic High School

Elizabeth Academic High School, located in the city center of Elizabeth, New Jersey, is surrounded by historic buildings, a residential neighborhood, and a park. At this complex site, SOM sought to design a school with its own sense of community that would respond to and enhance its urban environment. Traditional materials such as brick and stone, as well as the subtle articulation of the facade, give the building a distinct texture and style, while also relating it to its neighborhood. Inside the school, quadrangles and courtyards unite disparate parts of the campus and provide social spaces for students and faculty.

The school combines three small academies of 300 students each. One major design challenge was to integrate these academies physically and conceptually, achieving an efficient use of space, while creating a distinct identity for each. The solution situates the academies in discrete blocks on the two upper floors of a 184,000-square-foot, 4-story building, and aggregates shared functions (a cafeteria, an auditorium, and a gymnasium) on the two lower floors. The shared amenities are concentrated within the building's masonry base, while classrooms and science labs are enclosed by glass curtain walls which fill these spaces with abundant natural light.

Science labs are organized around interior courtyards, while classrooms face outward along the periphery of the building. Planted areas, at the courtyard and upper levels, augment the beauty of the site and retain rainwater. The third level holds three large resource rooms—one for each academy with folding interior walls to facilitate flexible and creative use. Upper-level circulation combines efficient double-loaded corridors within each academy and single-loaded corridors between academies. The single-loaded corridors include study areas and face directly onto the courtyard and other outdoor spaces, enhancing the potential for social interaction and creating a sense of connectedness throughout the building.