Stella Middle School

  • area / size 39,680 sqft
  • Completed 2020
  • Berliner Architects utilized both indoor and outdoor spaces when designing Stella Middle School in Los Angeles, California.

    Located on prime vacant land in the Crenshaw neighborhood of Los Angeles, Bright Star School’s Stella Middle School designed by Berliner Architects is a valuable addition to the Crenshaw community, providing new facilities and resources. The neighboring Baptist Church planned its development. Through the shared use of a large parking lot and new school gymnasium, the compatible uses of the 500-student charter school and the church allowed for the optimization of the use of both. The charter school organization provides quality educational opportunities to students in underserved areas, encouraging students to be critical thinkers and problem solvers who share in the responsibility of receiving a quality education. The design of the school communicates this mission to the community and sends the message that quality education and learning is happening there.

    Approximately one acre in area, the use of the site is optimized through the careful siting of the classroom building, gymnasium, and play fields. The front entry of the school is on Martin Luther King Blvd. with a tree-shaded walkway leading to the front door. Outdoor learning spaces are located along the walkway with shade provided by trees. The gymnasium is accessed off the front entry, allowing it to be used for church and community events when the rest of the school is closed.

    The three-story school is oriented north-south, providing ideal natural light in the classrooms along with views of the Baldwin Hills to the south and Hollywood Hills to the north from most classrooms. The classrooms are organized around a wide corridor that serves as both circulation and collaboration space. All restrooms are single occupancy, eliminating opportunities for bullying that often occur in multi-occupancy facilities, and providing gender-neutral accommodations for all students and teachers. Middle school is a challenging time in child development, so these design features make the school environment safer and friendlier for all students.

    The one-story gymnasium building pivots around a shared courtyard where the servery is located. The gym accommodates a middle school basketball court and is used for a multitude of activities for the school and church. Two large, glass garage doors along the east facade open up to a shaded lunch area and play fields beyond, allowing activities to flow from inside to outside. The large shade canopy is cantilevered off the gym building to eliminate all columns that otherwise would be adjacent to the play field.

    Interior materials include wood-like flooring, exposed wood trusses, and warm colors, all used to create a home-like feeling to increase student comfort. Exterior materials are shot-blast concrete block laid in a stack bond for the gymnasium and painted plaster and metal for the classroom building. Materials and colors were selected to provide a warm and uplifting aesthetic to the school.

    The school was completed shortly before the coronavirus pandemic began. To help the school return, Berliner Architects conducted a series of studies on how to utilize outdoor spaces, multi-purpose areas, and excess event parking as classroom space to accommodate social distancing. Circulation, signage, controlled entry and exit points, and a modified pick-up/drop-off pattern were also considered.

    Design: Berliner Architects
    Design Team: Richard Berliner, Rahel Zewdu, Lautaro Galvez, Gilmar Compos
    Contractor: Consolidated Construction
    Photography: Tom Bonner