How Does M-A’s Architecture Affect Campus Environment?

4 mins read

All art aims to communicate a message to an audience. Architecture uniquely immerses and surrounds you in that message. Students spend over a third of the year at school, yet the architectural design of campus can easily be overlooked. Nonetheless, the subtle messaging influences us, whether we know the intricacies of the history or not. 

Around campus, the newer buildings stand out for their contemporary styles. Let’s take a look at the history behind the style of these buildings and what kind of environment M-A creates for its students. 

Modernism Around Campus

Villa Savoye, Howe, Jeffery W.

The modernist architecture movement began in the 20th century when architects started rejecting historical notions of artistic value based on highly ornamented buildings. This paralleled the rest of the art world as abstraction gained popularity, questioning the meaning of art and emphasizing its universality. Many artists took a minimalist approach to their work, believing that reducing the concepts in their art made it accessible to a wider audience. 

Lovell House, Locke, Micheal, J.

A subsection of modernist architecture called International Style is defined by smooth surfaces, lack of decoration, flat roofs, ribbon windows (long, uninterrupted strips of windows), asymmetry, and use of concrete and glass. It revives a classical notion of space rather than mass in regard to volume, opting for buildings with large, open spaces. 

Heavy influences of International Style can be seen in the G-Wing. It was designed by LPA Design Studios and completed in 2017. Algebra II teacher Jennifer Che, who has called G-21 home for five years, said, “My first thought was that it looked nice for a high school campus, much more modern than I was used to.” The large floor-to-roof columns demand the viewer’s attention, sleek and unornamented. The building has a flat roof with asymmetrical slopes on the underside, all elements that line up with internationalism. 

Openness of space is a standout feature. Che said, “I like how many windows there are. I like the high ceilings and it’s a well-lit area for students to work in.” The three-sided shape of the building is carved out in the middle, leading to an expansive courtyard, opening up the environment, yet another internationalist design choice. Rows of ribbon windows bring natural light into classrooms and open-air roofed hallways on the second floor, called stoae, create open space.  

Asymmetry is also highlighted throughout the G-Wing. The inconsistent placement of angular staircases emphasizes the asymmetrical floor plan. Lights, tables, and benches scattered throughout the courtyard offer contrast in their unique angles.

The design deviates from internationalism within the windows which have smooth boards on the edges of each panel, a detail that would not be utilized in a completely faithful internationalist building. The maroon and cream paint adds to the element of school spirit and serves as another point of deviation. 

The influences are clear when comparing the G-Wing to buildings of International Style. M-A  puts a creative spin on the traditional traits, adding originality and distinctiveness. The usage of the International Style may have been purposeful to accommodate the large variety of classes located in the G-Wing. As one of the main focuses of internationalist buildings is to create universal appeal, the G-Wing reflects the ideas of many different subjects. The design allows the messaging to shift subjectively, creating an opening and welcoming environment with no restrictions.

Another building that utilizes elements of internationalism is the S-Wing, which was also designed by LPA Design Studios and opened in 2018. Environmental Science and Biology teacher Erica Woll has taught in S-8 for three years. She said, “My first year at M-A, I was in the C-Wing, and the Science Department would have meetings in the S-Wing. When I came over the first time, I remember feeling impressed. It looked very new with its clean lines.” 

Like the G-Wing, the S-Wing takes creative liberties with the starting point of International Style. The S-Wing opts to add more color, featuring various shades of red tile and decorative ribbing where the colors are flat. The round protrusion of the staircase is a feature reminiscent of other internationalist buildings. Woll added, “I like that it has tall ceilings in the rooms, it makes it feel spacious. We have windows on both sides which allows for a nice environment with natural light.” 

Science is objective and applicable to everyone, an idea that follows the Internationalist ethos. The sense of openness and connection to nature holds relevance since science is out in the physical world. The large windows merge interior and exterior, blurring the line between the classroom and the outside world, inviting students to see them as one. 

Deconstructivism Around Campus

Royal Ontario Museum; Catchen, Gary

Deconstructivism is a subsection of the Postmodern architectural movement developed in the 1960s. Its core idea is to fragment the building, a similar line of thought to Cubism. As Cubism sought to abstract a figure by geometrically breaking it down, Deconstructivism features exteriors that project that idea onto a physical plane. It is nonlinear, rarely symmetrical, heavily abstract, and often utilizes large expanses of metal. 

The Performing Arts Center (PAC) was designed by award-winning architects Craig Hodgetts and Hsinming Fung and completed in 2009. The grand design and large scale easily create awe within the viewer.

Guggenheim Bilbao; Wikimedia Commons

The PAC is distinctly Deconstructivist in its fragmentation and highly irregular form. The glass planes that make up the entirety of the entrance are angular, inconsistent, and supported by metal beams that offer contrast in material and angles while also creating balance by smoothly leading the eye up to the ceiling. With large expanses of metal, concrete, and glass, it follows deconstructivist ideas to a tee. 

The M-A website states that the building was “designed and landscaped to create a treehouse-like environment and the impression it is following the contours of an already existing hillside.” This follows the recurring theme of merging architecture with nature, tying the design of the PAC in with other buildings on campus despite its difference in architectural style.  

Deconstructivism is a style rooted in breaking out of what is ordinary. It expresses radical ideas and rejects notions of simplicity for the sake of universal appeal. A Deconstructivist design for the PAC communicates these ideas of outward creativity which is highly fitting for a building made for the arts. It promotes thinking outside the box, innovation, and uniqueness, all qualities that thrive in the expressive nature of performing art. 

M-A is fortunate to have a beautiful campus with stunning architecture. Many of our newly constructed buildings take root in internationalism to project an idea of inclusivity as well as deconstructivism to endorse creativity. Learning more about the history behind works can offer a deeper insight into how the world around us is shaped by architecture.

Leehan is a senior and this is her first year in journalism. She finds interest in fashion, the arts, and M-A’s diverse student life.

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