Herding Cats

Walking up the stairs of Coop Himmelblau’s Central Los Angeles High School No. 9. Photo: Dave Lauridsen

I will admit, I was naïve. I should have known better. I have a fourteen-year-old daughter, after all, and negotiate that stark reality on a daily basis. But I had a vision: a cockeyed, unrealistic vision that high school students would (willingly) take on projects that resembled, in almost every conceivable way, homework. (Don’t fault me for trying.)

We collected about 200 surveys for our story on Central Los Angeles High School No. 9, and more than twenty students checked the box indicating they wanted to write a short essay or blog (very short—no extra work involved! I assured them) on the school’s architecture.

My thankless job? Prodding, nagging, and hectoring them into actually producing copy. My batting average?  About eight for twenty four. I tried to get boys involved—even one—but struck out. The casual reader might not notice this lack of testosterone, but professional educators worried about achievement gaps surely won’t.

As a writer who has spent decades polishing the art of procrastination, I was impressed with the student’s ability to push our deadlines to near drop-dead dates. “How much time do I have?” I heard more than once, usually from boys. In the end most of the students who formally committed to writing something came through. One student essay by Esthefanie Peraza, missed the deadline for print, but the internet (god bless it) is loose in that regard. So here is Esthefanie’s lovely piece on shadows:

metropolis_chs9-123Photo: Dave Lauridsen

The school has so many strange contrasts that at any time of day you can catch a fresh shadow. In the early morning, while teachers are arriving, you can bask in the huge shadow made by the library that covers the whole entrance on Grand Ave. It provides relief from the heat and creates a magnificent way to enter the campus. Later as the sun moves and the shadows are chased underneath and away, you can catch an amazing image of the #9 structure reflected perfectly on the theater wall. The sun penetrates through the small gaps within the #9, so bright and direct, it’s almost blinding.

The school is almost completely grey. This makes it a photographer’s dream. The plants and the people add color and the light gets intensified with all the metal. Walking through the grounds, everywhere you look is a shifting balance of light and shadow, of shadow lines reflected in staircase handrails, bicycle racks, of shadows within shadows, and the criss-crossing silhouette pattern that is almost hidden beneath the tall palms. If you’re in the right frame of mind you can appreciate the other side of life at lunch, the shadows laying all around, the splash of grey making you and your surroundings alive.

-Esthefanie Peraza

For more on getting high school students to talk about architecture, read Martin Pedersen’s account of how the post-occupancy study was conducted. Read the final study from our July/August issue here.

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