Architects involve students and teachers in renovation plans



William Rawn Associates set up a scale model of the school in the MLK room on Dec. 15. The image shows the first floor plan of the renovated Tappan Street wing.

Susanna Kemp, Co-Editor-in-Chief

For all of you whose biggest pet peeve is getting stuck in the narrow halls behind a group of meandering students spread across the hallway, you’re in luck. Well, you yourself might not be, but future Brookline High School students will, because the renovation plans for the school include wider corridors.

By working closely with members of the school community, William Rawn Associates, the architecture firm designing the high school expansion, is creating a plan that creates a more cohesive school environment.

You may not have noticed the extra adults in the school over the last year, but they’ve been a constant presence. The architects have met with faculty, gone on student-led tours, asked numerous questions about the way the school functions and presented scale models to the administration.

“We like to listen first before putting things in drawing form,” said Erik Tellander, senior associate at Rawn and project manager of the expansion. “The process of listening and hearing and finding out what’s distinctive about Brookline High School . . . is something that I think has been really fascinating about this process.”

According to Assistant Headmaster Hal Mason, it was important for the architects to talk to students, because while most teachers stay stationary in one classroom, students are constantly navigating around the school.  

“They’re going to walk with kids and see what it is like to pass through the halls, see what makes the difference in the halls and why certain halls are favored over other halls, and what students like and don’t like about the building and get that whole perspective from the student,” Mason said. “They want to see the building as a student sees it.”

In the beginning of the school year, students gave tours to architects, including senior Eva Earnest, who said she suggested making a larger auditorium and including more eating spaces.

“They found people who had experience with lots of different classes and different school activities and different clubs, and then they basically had us give {the architects} a tour and talk about what we do at the high school and how different parts of the high school influence us — connecting architecture to who we are,” Earnest said.

The master plans attempt to utilize Cypress Field as a central space, with the Unified Arts Building, Tappan Building, the main building and the new Cypress Street building facing the field. According to Tellander, the Cypress Street building will likely be built over the D Line train tracks so that the front doors open onto the field, and the side entrance to the main building on Greenough Street will be widened.

“Even if the weather isn’t that great, there’s this desire to come out onto the street in front of the high school and actually hang out,” Tellander said. “And there’s a kind of front porch-like quality to the front of the school that you don’t see necessarily at other schools.”

Unity will go beyond just entrances, with wider halls and more places to stop and chat without clogging the hallways, Tellander said.

“Right now, even though it’s a very straightforward {layout}, it feels a little bit more like a warring of corridors,” Tellander said. “And I think the goal would be to open that up. Not destroy it, but to give it a little bit more clarity and give it a little bit more of a focal point.”

Mason said that he has noticed when visiting other high schools that students don’t use common spaces much, while the quad, field and other common spaces serve as integral parts of Brookline High School.

“The architects look at those picnic tables, and the kids told them how those are actually used. They look at the quad and see how that’s actually used. I think that goes into the overall calculation,” Mason said.

Tellander said that the architects have noticed the importance of spaces like the interior picnic tables and the alcoves by the Robert-Dubbs Auditorium balcony, and they want to create additional similar spaces and expand their purposes so that they’re not just “hidden pockets.”

“They’re more just places to land and have that short conversation, decide who’s doing what for the group project or just touch base with some of your friends that you may not have class with,” Tellander said.

Tellander said that both students and faculty have expressed widespread interest in expanding opportunities for interdisciplinary learning. The architects have started to identify how they might create widenings of the hallway in which two or three classrooms front onto a shared space.

“You might actually have a math class and a history class that are across the hall from each other that get together and say, ‘We want to teach something about the history of math and early discovery,’ and for two periods or a week, or whatever it is in terms of the schedule, they both come out and share this space and become one class,” Tellander said.

Science teacher Dr. Briana Brown said that the architects have worked hard to meet the specific needs of different teachers.

“They’re very open to suggestions. They’re very thorough in what they’re doing,” Brown said. “They have been really great about understanding that biology teachers need something a bit different than chemistry teachers, a little bit different than physics teachers, for example.”

But the appreciation goes both ways. According to Tellander, the engagement of the students, administration and town in the expansion is amazing; everyone has an opinion they want to share.

“Everyone’s willing to talk about it in a way that shows this is important to them,” Tellander said. “That’s a testament to the community, both the high school community but also the broader community. You’d be surprised how that is not as universal as you would think.