The Cooke School and Institute serve students with a wide variety of special needs from early childhood through high school and beyond. Their mission to teach independence and self-sufficiency is intricately woven into the curriculum and is a distinguishing feature of the school. Currently spread across four locations that have been adapted to meet the needs of the students, the School and Institute are consolidating the Grammar School, Academy High School, and Institute into a single purpose built facility in East Harlem.
The design challenge was how to combine the grammar and high schools into a single location while maintaining a separate identity, and circulation, for each. The two lower floors of the building house the larger spaces, including gymnasium, cafeteria and creative arts classroom which are shared between the two schools, as well as the administrative offices for the Institute. The upper three floors of the building are divided in half, creating two independent schools; each with their own dedicated academic and specialty classrooms, therapy and counseling spaces and individual intercommunicating stairs.
Located within a larger superblock campus, the school will be a freestanding building visible on all sides, a condition uncommon within Manhattan. This afforded an opportunity to think about the facades and their impact beyond just facing the street. The front of the school has a ribbon of channel glass along the first floor, which will create a bright and welcoming presence along the street edge, while maintaining privacy for the students and faculty inside. The upper floors are clad with a terra cotta rain screen system where individual bays articulate the classrooms beyond. Accents of colored glass allude to the bright color palette of the interiors. The three remaining facades are simplified versions of the front, with flattened window bays and insulated metal panels.
With a single 69,000 sf facility that is designed specifically to accommodate the needs of the students and the pedagogy of the school, the Cooke School and its students will be better able to achieve their lofty educational goals.