In 2011, Rockwell Group completed Blue School for pre-k and elementary students. We partnered with the founders of Blue School, Matt Goldman, Chris Wink, Phil Stanton (the founders of the renowned Blue Man Group), Renee Rolleri, Jen Wink, and Jennifer Lamberts Stanton, to build the new permanent home for Blue School in the South Street Seaport. This existing six-story building provided a strong foundation for the school to further realize its mission and vision: creating unique and powerful approaches to cultivate children’s curiosity, creative expression, and self-awareness.
Rockwell Group is very proud to be part of Blue School’s next phase of growth as Architect of their new Upper Primary and Middle Schoolin Lower Manhattan. The firm joined the early planning efforts in 2015, helping assess potential locations and conducting an extensive programming exercise for the new facility. In close collaboration with the design committee, school administrators, educators, and students, Rockwell Group helped define a unique set of design criteria tailored to Blue School’s educational philosophy. The 156 William Street location was ultimately selected as the site of the 45,000 square foot facility, with a dedicated ground floor entry, new facade along William Street, and four levels of flexible modern classrooms and specialized spaces for learning.
Blue School wanted to create a street and neighborhood presence with their new facility, so Rockwell Group focused on several moves that increase visibility, such as the custom facade panel at the ground floor entry that animates the street, and a double-height, glazed library that becomes a beacon at night. Inspired by Blue School’s philosophy that students should collaborate and work together—sparking conversations, challenges, and curiosity—Rockwell Group ensured that every space, from classrooms to hallways, creates moments for planned and spontaneous group learning and inspiration.
William Street School Entrance
A contemporary street level façade along the length of William Street maximizes natural light with large windows and animates the street with a warm palate of durable ipe wood slats and accents of strong saturated color. The new entry doors are set back from the street creating a generous sense of welcome as well as the opportunity for a 10-foot-square exterior art wall. This series of removable panels can accommodate commissioned content that rotates each school year, and embodies Blue School’s spirit of creativity, growth, and change, as well as contributing to the neighborhood. A punch of neon script crowns the entry doors.
A gallery-like entry/reception space contains ample room to display student work in a variety of formats and plenty of built in seating. This gallery concept continues with display niches at each level of the new central stair. Extra generous in its proportions and painted a high gloss neon yellow, the stair was designed as more than just primary circulation; it’s also a vertical room that knits together this multi-level school.
The other principal space located on ground floor is the school Commons. The Commons functions as a pick-up and drop-off area, student lounge, study hall, café, and community space. Here, Rockwell Group brought the outdoors inside, partnering with Brooklyn Grange. The walls are lined with a system of tiered, planted trays that function as a small-scale urban garden. A variety of informal seating options, tinted concrete floor, exposed ceiling, and colorful outdoor furniture give the space a casual, comfortable feeling. Large windows connect the space to the street and allow in plenty of daylight. Generous cooking and prep areas signal Blue School’s long-standing dedication to fresh food as an important part of a healthy learning environment.
The second floor is dedicated to a mix of student classrooms, the school library, and teacher workspaces. The classrooms feature loft-like finishes with exposed concrete ceilings and state of the art LED fixtures to supplement natural lighting.
Each classroom has a small area devoted to quiet study and is configured slightly differently with storage and raised carpeted platforms in saturated color schemes. Rockwell Group designed simple wood and metal desks sized for digitally focused learning. The non-directional desk accommodates seating on three of the four sides, allowing the furniture to be configuredin various small group arrangements, which is critical to Blue School’s commitment to project based learning.
The school library occupies the prominent southwest corner of the second and third floors at Ann and William Streets. Rockwell Group’s design removes a portion of the third floor to create a book-lined double height space celebrating this critical component of the new school. Research terminals and white oak bookshelves balance digital and conventional media. Custom common tables and a monumental sofa give students a wide variety of options for both individual and collaborative study. A large-scale color changing light sculpture designed in collaboration with Dot Dash Design hangs in the two- story space, giving the school added street presence at night.
Additional classrooms, science labs, and art and maker-spaces continue on the third floor. Separate chemistry and biology labs are equipped with whiteboard walls, lab grade cabinetry, and colorful moveable shelving and pegboard storage. The adjoining maker and art spaces feature butcher-block work surfaces, under-counter stools, art tables, a shared materials library, and 3D printer tables designed specifically for digital and handmade projects.
On both the 2nd and 3rd floors, glass-walled corridors with custom scrim laminate allows for natural light to penetrate deep into classrooms while preserving some visual privacy.
The lower level accommodates another critical component of the new school’s program: a 1,600 square-foot column-free space for sports and exercise. To achieve thiscolumn-free space and preserve the ceiling height, the design and engineering team removed a central building column and had to introduce new steel to maintain the structural integrity of the building. The unusually generous ceiling height allowed us to create a space suitable for basketball as well as a variety of sports. This space converts to a 130-seat auditorium for performances and large school gatherings. Portable seating risers, a technical lighting grid, and a backstage area with wings will accommodate the very active student theater program. A separate adjacent studio space dedicated to music and dance features a sprung maple floor, custom instrument storage, and specialized acoustic treatments.
The space at the foot of the central open stair doubles as a student lounge as well as an informal pre-function space for events. Wall surfaces are clad with colorful, geometric wallpaper by Brooklyn’s Flavor Paper and the room contains custom blue foam lounge furniture inspired by Rockwell Group’s Imagination Playground— Blue School was an early adopter and user of this foam block system.