Field Work

Students in the upper courtyard of Coop Himmelblau’s Central Los Angeles High School No. 9. Photo: Dave Lauridsen

Everyone always talks about conducting post-occupancy studies, but for a variety of reasons (some legitimate: cost; some less so: exposure) architects rarely do it. At Metropolis, we’d talked about it for a while, but we either couldn’t find the right project or, more importantly, a client willing to subject their building to criticism from the people who use it. (Who needs that?)

Earlier this year we got lucky. At a lunch (arranged by Amanda Walter) with Gary Gidcumb, a Los Angeles-based partner at HMC Architects, I mentioned how I’d always wanted to do a post-occupancy story on the Coop Himmelblau-designed school in LA, Central Los Angeles High School No. 9, and somehow involve the students. “We were executive architects for that project,” Gidcumb said. “We can help you make that happen.”

Gidcumb introduced me, via email, to Katherine Harrison, No. 9’s executive director. Katherine had strong opinions about the school’s architecture–during our first conversation, she commented on the “awkward transitions between social spaces”. But she was game, went through the approval process, and then helped us create a survey that identified people in the school–students, teachers, and support staff–willing to participate.

We collected about 200 surveys. After reviewing them, our writer, Christopher Hawthorne, did a masterful job of synthesizing their spirit into the finished story.  On our end, we followed up on anyone willing to participate, with emails and phone calls.  The completed surveys were a kind of portrait of adolescence, writ small: hilarious, dutiful, insightful, incoherent, incomplete, indifferent.  “You know what?” I said to our edit and art team as we passed around the surveys one morning. “Kids haven’t changed that much since I went to high school. And that was a long time ago.”  Below are some of the surveys we gathered for our story on high school No. 9.

(Click on images to enlarge)

A Dream in Outer Space


Grey is the Color of Sad


I Would Have Made Less Stairs

survey_51I Mean, It’s School


The Spirit of the School


Read the final post occupancy report here: “Starchitecture High”

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