The School for the Physical City, one of the “small schools” inaugurated by the New York City Board of Education in 1993-94, moved to its new quarters at the beginning of the 1995 Fall semester. Occupying 55,000 square feet of space on floors 1-5 of a Manhattan office building, the school accommodates a maximum of 500 students at the intermediate and high school levels. An underlying purpose of the school is to broaden the students’ education by introducing them to the urban infrastructure, using the city’s resources as a learning laboratory.
In keeping with this theme, the school has been designed as a means by which students can learn about the built environment by observing the elements that make up the building. Structural columns on every floor are painted vivid green, overhead water pipes are painted blue, and air conditioning ducts are painted in a variety of colors. At the same juncture on every floor there is a small viewing panel, painted green, that lets one see into the room containing the heating, ventilation and air-conditioning equipment for that floor.
Other distinctive design elements include the color-coding of public spaces and classrooms according to use; floor and wall markings that orient students to compass directions and to the height of each floor above street level; a floor plan on every floor; and a lobby desk constructed of steel beams in homage to Peter Cooper, founder of the Cooper Union (a cosponsor of the school), who pioneered steel-frame construction, a basic component of the twentieth-century building’s infrastructure. Special attention was paid to making provisions for the school to be fully computerized, and extra space was set aside for the future additions of telecommunications and power-wiring.