New York City

Collegiate School

Connecting the old with the new Collegiate School is an independent boys’ K-12 day school in New York City. Founded in 1628, it’s one of the oldest schools of any kind in the United States.

A great deal of tradition can be found within its historic walls.

The school recently moved to a new modern building on the Upper West Side. Their old building, while loved by many, no longer suited their needs.

To address the concerns that the new building might not be “Collegiate” enough, we were asked to develop a program that would infuse the character and tradition of the “old” Collegiate into what would be the new and future Collegiate.

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The new, modern structure — designed by KPF and Studios Architecture — is far cry from the idea of tradition that comes to mind when one thinks of Collegiate. How could we acknowledge history while looking to the future?

We decided that our challenge would not be to attempt to replicate history, but instead to establish a foundation on which new traditions could start to build over time. We’d incorporate a few of the old building’s ideas and artifacts into the new one as a way of getting things going.

BEFORE: The previous building, on West 77th street, had been home to Collegiate School since 1892. It was filled with history, memories, tradition, and more than a few quirks (all of which we liked and wanted to somehow preserve).
Our plan was to take some of the physical elements from the old building and weave them into the fabric of the new one in unexpected ways, with a goal of contributing to the establishment of a vital living and learning experience — and not just propping up artifacts as if they were in a museum.
Items to be incorporated included the historic wood school seal, marble panels inscribed with the Headmasters' names going back to 1633 (including a break for when the school was "interrupted by the Revolutionary War"), and the row of "Head Boy" plaques, listing the names of the one senior selected each year as an exemplary student and role model.
The old building featured hundreds of linear feet of historic photographs that we wanted to somehow showcase after the move.
When asked what they wanted to see in the new space, the students' overwhelming request was to keep the old stone staircase. Used by Upper School boys on a daily basis, these steps represented an important rite of passage. Sadly, decades of heavy use had worn the treads down to the point where they could no longer be salvaged as stairs.

In with the new: The entrance canopy to the new building, incorporating custom lettering we had fabricated using the school’s typeface.

The relocated Head Boy plaques are suspended in a custom hanging assembly allowing viewing from two levels. We've left room for growth; in another 14 years it will be time to add another column. (And so on: By our math, we'll be able to go for another 374 years before we run out of wall space.)
TOP: The restored and remounted Headmaster panels are showcased in the main stairway area. ABOVE: We wanted to incorporate as many of the historic photos as possible. Wall space is at a premium, so we developed a series of custom "subway car frieze" fixtures that are nestled into alcoves around the school.

Our plan was to not situate the relocated artifacts in places that were obvious, front-and-center. Rather they would pop up in unexpected, sometimes even seemingly imperfect or quirky locations, reflecting the "grown-into" character of the previous location.

The center jump circle from the old basketball court is framed and featured in the
stairway leading to the new gym.

The new main stair vestibule features the wood school seal along with a historic millstone, extracted from the old building's exterior wall.
We repurposed the old gym's basketball rim to encourage recycling.

The stone staircase did find a new home, allowing current Collegiate students to continue to follow in the footsteps of their predecessors. The floor of the school’s new main entry area incorporates an inset strip fashioned from the old building’s well-worn and much-loved stone steps.

Glass walls feature texts from the school “farewell song” and alma mater, along with historic line drawings of the previous buildings found in the school archives.

Our work also included the development of more traditional signage and wayfinding elements. There is no need to "over-sign" a building of this type; most people who use it daily (students, teachers, staff) know where they're going, so the sign program is tailored to the needs of visitors.

Designers
Alexander Isley
Christina Holland
Shannon Stolting