Camino Nuevo Charter Academy Burlington Campus
- Location Los Angeles, CA
- Type Master Planning
- Completion 2008
- Client Pueblo Nuevo Development
Created in response to substandard conditions and overcrowding in the local schools, the Camino Nuevo Charter Academy was a redevelopment project and experiment in public education in McArthur Park, one of the most impoverished and densely populated neighborhoods in Los Angeles. The campus is the result of serial modifications to a group of low-rise wood-frame and masonry structures —the type of background buildings that make up much of Los Angeles and are used interchangeably as offices, warehouses, and commercial buildings. This group of buildings, constructed over a fifty-year time frame and largely derelict at the time, were acquired over a period of five years and renovated in a “just in time” manner to accommodate the increasing enrollment and additional grade levels of Camino Nuevo Charter Academy.
Urban renewal strategies usually rely on an increase in density as part of their formula for success, as if density and urbanity were identical concepts. The Camino Nuevo neighborhood was already one of the most densely populated districts in Los Angeles, so an increase in density was not an issue. We felt a key factor in the reclamation of the neighborhood was to demonstrate to the community that the street could be successfully and safely reinhabited. We also had to acknowledge that the urban fabric that made up the Camino Nuevo sites was a bit tattered, and that the task of restoring it completely was well beyond the level of investment possible in these projects. We opted for a strategy of creating voids and transparencies in the existing building fabric in a manner that would allow views from the street to extend to the middle of the block, without compromising the secure perimeter of the buildings.
The first phase of the project reuses an existing mini-mall and parking deck, transforming this familiar commercial building type into a twelve-classroom elementary school. The school is organized around a courtyard used as a multipurpose outdoor assembly and play area. Curved lattices of Nexwood, a recycled wood product, shade the building and offer limited views of play activity from the street.
The second project, Camino Nuevo’s middle school, was constructed in two stages: first, classrooms were built in a bowstring-trussed warehouse along an interior “street” that is open to the sky and provides natural light to each teaching space. This street is shared with the second part of the project, a renovated office building, which holds classrooms, labs, and a community health center. The façade of the complex facing Wilshire Boulevard was modified to allow natural daylight control through a scrim of perforated panels.
Adjacent to the middle school, in a third phase of work, a preschool and shared nonprofit dance studio were created by removing portions of another warehouse. to create a mid-block garden and complete the process of adding to the neighborhood through subtraction. The area to be removed from the warehouse was established by State guidelines for outdoor play area per student. The newly created garden is visible through screened views from the street, bounded by the reconstructed classrooms, which form the perimeter of the playground.