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image Project: Cass Technical High School

Cass Technical High School

Introduction : Team : School : Narratives : Costs : Images


Cass Technical High School

A 21st Century Urban High School of Excellence. As such, it benefits the community as a whole by being a good neighbor and enhancing the environment. While the size of the building is similar to other buildings on Cass Park (an important public park in Detroit), its mass is broken down to emphasize its varied activities. The academic, public, athletic, and performance spaces are all distinct pieces of Cass Tech. Additionally, the Media Center is emphasized and oriented on Cass Park in a way that follows the vocabulary set up by elements from neighbors on the park, the Masonic Temple and the Kresge Building.

[The school] was first established in 1917 and has gained the notoriety of being the ‘flagship’ of the Detroit Public Schools ‘fleet.’ The school (adjacent to the new school) has served students well and many of its alumni have gone on to achieve greatness in the entertainment, corporate and governmental venues. It is a ‘magnet’ school open to all Detroit students through a vigorous examination acceptance process.

Before embarking on this replacement school, a comprehensive planning study was conducted by the Architect to ascertain whether the existing school could be updated to meet the requirements of the 21st Century curriculum needs. After exhaustive study, it was evident that the school had outlived its useful life span and it would be cost prohibitive to try to create an appropriate educational environment with out major compromise. The decision was made to proceed with the new school.

The exterior envelope of the [new school] complements its neighbors as well as emphasizing the school’s role as a leading edge institution. The brick precast panels are similar to the many surrounding brick buildings, but give the façade a cleaner, more engineered quality. The heavy masonry is lightened by large expanses of glass and by a lighter, metal structure. The glass is tinted and shaded to cut down the solar heat gain and reduce the demands placed on the mechanical systems. As a whole, the exterior materials are used to create an image of both Detroit’s industrial history and the schools’ forward-looking curriculum.

Interactive and Comprehensive Planning Process

Interactive planning sessions with community members, teachers, staff, administrators and students were utilized as the vehicle for the development of a comprehensive program. Facilitated by the design team, Vision Planning sessions were held with diverse groups to explore ideas related to the new Cass Tech. Session 1 involved open ‘brainstorming’ where various philosophical concepts were discussed (Image, Outreach to Community, Opportunities for Students, Opportunities for Staff, New Curriculum Initiatives, etc.). At Session 2, the design team consolidated and expanded ideas discussed and reviewed those with all participants. This was followed with an interactive exercise to have participants rank all ideas to establish priorities. Session 3 was a summary review of all concepts explored.

Detailed interactive sessions then followed with specific user groups to establish educational specifications and ultimately design concepts. Macro design concepts were then reviewed with participants from the Visioning sessions to cull out options and reach a ‘community’ consensus.

This process certainly influenced the learning environment with the inclusion of seven distinct Curriculum Pathways that surfaced through the sessions. Upon entering this school, students will choose an area of concentration for all elective studies (Arts and Communication, Business and Marketing, Engineering and Manufacturing, Health Sciences, Human Services, Natural Resources/Agriscience, and Science and Arts.

Students entering the school for their first year, explore courses in all of these pathways combined with a uniform core curriculum. At the start of their second year, students choose a pathway for conc

Excerpt from CAM Magazine, March 2003, pp. 19-22

It’s a behemoth of a building nestled in one of the most economically depressed neighborhoods in Detroit. It looks like a factory, and to a degree the description is accurate since [the school] has been producing some of the finest intellectual capital in the country for nearly ninety years. Cass Technical High School attracts and graduates top-notch students from the entire city of Detroit. These students, who must meet tough academic standards to enter the hallowed halls, have a history of moving from those halls to become accomplished leaders in every imaginable career area.

This unique urban educational complex will begin to match the facility to the nationally acclaimed curricula known for producing star students. Design manager for the DPSPMT, Raqueeb Albaari, said, ‘The design approach for all our schools starts with the instructional space. The success of the design depends on accomplishing thermal, acoustical, indoor air quality and visual comfort. As these requirements are met, we integrate this success with the exterior design opportunities. Together, interior and exterior design supports our goal of creating architecture that enhances academic performance and provides safe environments that are enjoyable. The visual design of both the interior and exterior illustrates a sense of progress and modernity.’

[The architects and planners] tailored the building’s design to fit the school’s curriculum. The [new school] is designed from the inside out. This approach ensured that the needs of students drove the architecture, not the other way around. The new building also points the way to the future via a high-tech façade. Clearly, the [new school] will be a premiere high school for Michigan in terms of curriculum, history and legacy, as well as design sophistication.

The six-story building’s glass elements are designed so that children can look out into the city and the city can see the circulation of children within the structure. The running track on the upper level gives students a spectacular view of the city and the city a view of students using the facilities. The staircase towers used for circulation from floor to floor are positioned on the perimeter to permit natural light, both as an aesthetic element and as a safety measure. Designers worked with the district’s chief security officer to come up with the best design.

Transparency was an important design element. Natural light was incorporated into as many spaces as possible. The new library/media center soars 45 feet high at its highest point with a glass façade overlooking Cass Park.

A sizable portion of the building is composed of three main pieces or three big boxes; the gymnasium, the auditorium and the pool. The academic tower is on the other side of the commons. The space in between contains an atrium flooded with natural light. Build on a north-south axis, the main hallway runs the length of the building and forms a spacious corridor for students to congregate and meet.

This facility adds new polish to a jewel of the Detroit Public Schools. Participants have a great sense of pride in building this unique educational structure that will match the school’s excellent academic curriculum.

Recognized Value Award 2006


High School

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