Design for better learning and community use in Vancouver’s downtown core
Crosstown Elementary School is the first urban school built in Vancouver’s downtown core in a decade, rapid densification has brought a sharp increase in the number of one- and two-child families choosing to live in centrally located towers, rather than move to the suburbs.
By Alvin Martin
In this context, Crosstown Elementary forms the basis for future partnerships between the Vancouver School Board [VSB], the City of Vancouver and developers, to secure space required for future schools in areas where land is otherwise unaffordable. Crosstown has been incorporated into an existing mixed-use development, with a commercial podium and residential towers completed in 2006. The daycare was completed immediately afterward, and the remainder of the site was left for the school.
The new school was designed to accommodate 60 Kindergarten and 450 grades 1-7 children, and was built directly above the existing two-level, below-grade parkade. The parkade required structural upgrades to meet the current seismic code and to support the new four-storey school above. Since the parkade is owned by the tower residents, the VSB had to reach an agreement for access and upgrades prior to commencement of construction.
The school itself was designed to meet the criteria of the ‘21st Century Learning’ philosophy of the provincial Ministry of Education. The project team pared down the program and design requirements to the essentials. This enabled the program to be fit into the trapezoidal-shaped site that was also constrained by an existing balcony overhang and pool structure at the third-floor level, as well as the cantilevered outdoor play space of the adjacent daycare.
One of the driving forces behind the location and design of the school, was to encourage and facilitate community use of the building. The connection to Andy Livingstone Park and the surrounding community is expressed through the treatment of the ground floor. Public spaces are located on this level, including gymnasium, multipurpose and servery. Large glazed walls enclose most of this level, creating strong visual connections to the street and promoting an enhanced community presence within the school. This idea is made manifest by opening the multipurpose space on to the Park, whereby it creates a relationship with the playground, extending the school program into the public realm.
The second multipurpose space was funded by the City of Vancouver and is located directly below and adjacent to the existing daycare facility. The City will use this space in conjunction with the other multipurpose space to facilitate a 60-child, before and after school care program. Along with complementary use of the gymnasium and servery, this extends the use of the building beyond regular school hours, encouraging a greater level of community participation.
Alvin Martin is an associate and an architectural technologist with Francl Architecture Inc. He was the project manager for Crosstown Elementary School.