The new Paul Laurence Dunbar Senior High School replaces a Brutalist structure, creating a learning environment for 21st century students.
As the neighborhood fell into disrepair, the original 1917 school was replaced with a 1970’s brutalist building. The building design, often compared to a prison, exacerbated issues for a neighborhood in decline and removed its connection to the community. To flip this script, the 2013 renovation returned the building to its community, with appropriate neighborhood scale designed to bring people together.
Designed to pay homage to the historical legacy of the school and surrounding neighborhood, the new building modernizes the façade to prioritize open and transparent wayfinding. Just one year after Dunbar opened, it recorded the highest-percentage gains in reading and math scores of any high school across the city.
A chief objection to the existing building was its scale and foreboding appearance, not at all in character with the neighborhood. The new building was organized into smaller, internal “neighborhoods” of a lower scale and an open feeling.
These neighborhoods, or academies, provide smaller scale modules where students and teachers can work in groups and create bonds that will underpin a successful education.
The building is LEED Platinum certified and prioritizes human health and operational efficiency in a building that fosters collaboration. Solar panels across the roof—then the largest solar array in the city—generate enough electricity on a sunny day to light all 56 classrooms for eight hours.
Two 20,000-gallon cisterns under a service road capture rainwater to be reused as non-potable water for flushing toilets and irrigation, saving 1.4 million gallons of water per year compared to a typical high school. The new design emits 30 percent less greenhouse-gas emissions than the 1970s Brutalist-style structure that preceded it.