Chelsea Day School
project name : Chelsea Day School
location : Fifth Avenue, New York City
year of design: 2006
client: Chelsea Day School
architect: George Ranalli
associates: Robert Silman Structural Engineer, Laszlo Bodak Mechanical Engineers
design team: Hayden Marrero, Hollace Metzger, Hyungjin Lim,
Sean Ellis, Clement Sjauw
photographer: George Ranalli
Over its more than three-decade history, Chelsea Day School is a premier nursery school serving the residents of the Chelsea section of Manhattan. Starting in a small row-house loft building, the original school comprised a small, intimate, and interwoven set of classrooms and play spaces that developed over time, constantly added to and encrusted with activities and local history. Children’s artwork filled the walls and the entire environment was joyous. Eventually the school moved to a new space, but remained there only a few years. In 2008, economic forces compelled an unwelcome relocation to a five-story commercial building on hectic Fifth Avenue
The program called for the renovation of 12,000 square feet of second- and third-floor space for 10 classrooms, a flexible open room, administrative offices, a staff room, and a rooftop playground. Environmentally responsive design strategies include the use of energy-efficient construction methods and green features such as super-insulation; paints, flooring, and adhesives lacking volatile organic compounds; formaldehyde-free millwork; optimal natural sunlight; and a forced-air circulation system using less than half the energy of a typical HVAC system. Perhaps, most importantly, the architectural design reflects recognition of early childhood as a crucial developmental period, and the educational vision offering children a steady place for exploration and friendship. The spaces, rooms, and play areas provide a full range of interests to occupy and stimulate the development of the imagination of children.
The two floors of an industrial building, approximately 12,000 square feet of space, were fitted out to accommodate an array of classrooms, sitting areas, and large public rooms for group events. From the public street, after traversing an anonymous alleyway, children and adults reach the second-story entrance either by exterior staircase or private elevator. The design shapes a casual foyer with a cavernous storage room for prams, to one side, and a welcoming reception desk on the other. Beyond, the school opens up into piazza-like space where natural light reflects from a palate of honey yellow, eggshell, and cork.
This great, sunny room can function as an auditorium, school library, or rainy day gymnasium. A broad interior staircase, at the center, connects the second floor to the third, and doubles as stadium-style seating, podium, and choir loft.
The third floor contains classrooms, which are designed in conjunction with a meandering hallway to accommodate the circulation of teachers and children, and to provide spaces for casual conversations amongst staff, parents, and students. The shape of the hall provides a series of seating nooks where teachers or parents have intimate chats with a child, or children begin a new friendship.
A faculty room with enough space for a full kitchen and dining table facilitates meetings in the form of round-table discussions. Storage closets and cabinetry, hidden behind operable honey grain wood panels and beneath hinge-topped furniture, harbor all manner of miscellanies while protecting the school from the perils of urban clutter
Passageways meander toward atelier-style classroom spaces, intermediate spaces offer cozy seating and views into nursery rooms, each of which is equipped with a kitchen and pantry, ample space, and large windows with views of neighboring buildings that glint in sunlight one moment and disappear behind thick fog the next. Throughout, the architecture speaks to utility, durability, and youthful sensibilities.