A School That Embraces the Urban Community

November 9, 2017

Case Study: KIPP’s Newark Collegiate Academy at Littleton Ave.

The Design Challenge

Newark Collegiate Academy is a thriving KIPP New Jersey high school, but it was quickly outgrowing its building with capacity for 500 students. KIPP looked to KSS Architects to explore design solutions that would accommodate the 1,000 high school students who would progress through the charter network in the coming years.

But how can a four-story building honor the activated urban community without overwhelming the residential neighborhood context? How can a school focused on elevating the academic success of its students devote resources to the local community? These were the questions at the center of an inquiry-based, playful design process.

Design Approach

The design team began with a simple box and applied a series of geometrical transformations to soften the mass and respect the scale of the neighborhood — breaking down the façade vertically, raising and lowering solids, kinking blocks at 10º relative to the city grid, and carving major pathways through the interior.

These transformations shifted the focus of the building from its presence to its playfulness — the undulation of the façade takes precedent and the triangulation of soffits exposes a malleability that articulates itself in everything from the meandering glass river of the base floor to the translucent wall system of the grounded back mass that smoothly percolates daylight into the gym.

Design Outcome

Newark Collegiate Academy at Littleton Avenue has become the centerpiece of the KIPP school network, redefining the celebrated charter school network’s identity. Set on a glass base, the new building activates the street, pulling the community in and extending the learning environment and its visibility and meaning out into the neighborhood.

The intentional design layers the building into the social fabric — the athletic fields, gymnasium, café, and library all are flexible program spaces available for use by the local community. The design of the project supports a global, rigorous model of learning, and inspires students to achieve academic success informed by social impact. Newark Collegiate Academy is a model for schools to use their resources to elevate and engage their communities. And this collection of learning environments reframes the meaning of community for the students, empowering and encouraging them to change the world for the better.

Newark Collegiate Academy at Littleton Avenue has become a centerpiece of the charter school network—celebrating KIPP’s and Newark’s identity, activating the street, and extending vital shared resources to the neighborhood, elevating students and community members alike.

Newark is an urban region with one of the largest shares of students in poverty. And yet Newark has demonstrated significant gains for charter school students compared to traditional public schools in both math and reading, an accomplishment achieved by only 4 of the 41 urban regions studied. The role of place cannot be isolated in this progress, but it also should not be underestimated.

Newark students need brilliant learning spaces. This is, at its core, what Newark Collegiate Academy offers its students and their families.

You are going to have an attachment to this building. You can’t help but be proud of this building, you can’t help but be proud that this sits in the City of Newark, you can’t help but be proud that this is in the West Ward.

Gayle Chaneyfield Jenkins, Newark Councilwoman