Mary Ford Elementary School
North Charleston, South Carolina

The program for the 52,000 S.F. facility included the renovation of the existing c. 1956 building and a new nine classroom wing as well as a physical education / multipurpose facility. The existing red brick, two-story, double-loaded corridor building exists in an x-urban site in the "Neck" area of the Charleston peninsula. The urban context is a fragmented conditioned or bricolage of light industry, commercial, and low-income housing bordered by a series of railways and wetlands. It can be described best as a ragged condition -- one that needed repair or at least re-definition for the school in terms of location.

The overall concept of redefining location was the assemblage of the strategies to yield a new condition defined by a folded landscape to create exterior spaces and reflected light and color to connect interior and exterior spaces while defining specific location inside the building.

The urban design strategy was to stabilize the urban condition at the adjacent residential neighborhoods at the north and east with an "Urban Hedge". This two story element is a vegetated scrim that would provide protection from solar heat gain along the existing 350 ft. southwest elevation of the building as well as add a landscape amenity to the neighborhood. In addition, a new entry canopy was constructed to open to the neighborhood to accept the relationship context.

Civil design considerations were especially problematic for this site. Early in the design process it was determined that the existing site for expansion set upon a municipal trash dump. Environmental testing indicated that hazardous material were not present; however, the soil had to be remediated by excavating the waste and backfilling with proper fill to support the foundations for the new wings. Methane monitoring systems were installed in the new wings to monitor the daily air quality. In addition, the site had to be excavated for petroleum fuel that had leaked from an underground storage tank.

Upon completion of the site remediation the primary site strategy was to created a set of sculpted play areas and ball fields to erase the memory of the former condition and to set a new sense of place for this economically depressed area. Spatial joints were constructed between interior spaces and exterior “rooms” as occupiable fields of events and fields of landscape.

Stereonomy of mass and ground planes in contrast to the floating qualities of canopies and new roof conditions supported by steel framing are rendered through light and "lightness". Masses and ground planes are carved to make rooms for new events upon terraced landscapes while new overhead conditions are light constructed to provide new "scapes" that mediate between ground and sky.

At the interior of the new addition the folded ceiling modules the scale of the corridor and registers the idea of location with reflected light and reflected color from the walls and the floors.