Industrial Pop

Bright yellow architectural features pop out of a mostly gray school building at MaST Community Charter School II in Philadelphia. Two glazing boxes are framed in yellow and there’s an L-shaped yellow protrusion at the entrance canopy. Additionally, rooftop units are the same bright yellow.

Bright yellow features, corrugated metal make modern school design a standout

By Christopher Brinckerhoff

Photo: Halkin Mason Photography LLC

The metal-clad building is at once a reference to its industrial location and a forward-looking design representative of the school’s mission to educate students about technology and robotics. Metal also met the client’s use and budget requirements.

Industrial Influence

The school is in an industrial area on the Delaware River and visible from the I-95 highway. It is built on a former industrial site that was remediated for it and a second school building planned for the site. Previous occupants on the site include Dodge Steel Co.’s plant and, in the 19th century, Tacony Iron Works, where the iconic statue of William Penn that’s on Philadelphia City Hall was cast.

The school building is a long and narrow rectangular form clad with corrugated metal panels. Part of its industrial aesthetic, the corrugated metal panels create a look that resembles stacked shipping containers.

Photo: Halkin Mason Photography LLC

Likewise, the pops of bright yellow elements also support the industrial feel of the design. Andrew Donaldson-Evans, AIA, LEED AP, principal, regional director of design at EwingCole in Philadelphia, says, “The yellow elements were meant to offer high contrast, to be a little bit industrial looking as you might have with construction equipment or safety equipment, and to be something that really jumped out against the gray of the corrugated panels.”

The mechanical units on the roof are painted bright yellow as well. For budgetary reasons, screenwalls designed to conceal the rooftop units were eliminated. Instead of hiding the equipment, Donaldson-Evans says they decided to draw attention to it by painting them a color.

“We knew that we were going to be [adjacent to the Tacony Palmyra Bridge]. We knew that we were likely going to be visible from the Delaware River, and visible to anybody driving north or south on I-95, heading north out of Philadelphia or coming from the north into Philadelphia. My position was if we can’t afford to hide them; let’s be playful with it. And the yellow became sort of this playful element, and we stuck to it.”

Not only is the school noticeable from the roadway and river, Donaldson-Evans says, “It’s visible from a plane.”

Photo: Halkin Mason Photography LLC

For the gray metal wall panels, Quakertown, Pa.-based Robert Ganter Contractors Inc. installed Nashville, Tenn.-based Firestone Building Products Co. Inc.’s OMEGA VR-CLASSIC corrugated, exposed fastener aluminum wall panels in Kynar 500 Dark Grey and Light Grey.

At the bright yellow architectural features, Robert Ganter Contractors installed Firestone Building Products’ formed metal wall panels in yellow.

High-tech Academics

The building design fits the school’s mission in a conceptual sense, as well. There’s an emphasis on learning technology and robotics at MaST Community Charter School II, and the building’s modern, industrial appearance suits the academics taking place inside.

Bright yellow metal panels articulate windows at key social spaces: the entrance lobby, multipurpose room and maker spaces. Bright colors are used throughout the interior finishes and furnishings.

“One [benefit of using metal] was that we knew we had to be efficient, and that was a driver,” Donaldson-Evans says. “But we also knew it was a school for kids, and it’s one of the best charters in Pennsylvania. So we wanted it to be playful. The use of color on the inside is very intentional to help students with wayfinding. The use of color on the outside evokes industrial history and is playful, bright and vibrant.”

Photo: Halkin Mason Photography LLC

The corrugated metal panels transition from light to dark gray in three places around the building. The gradual transitions are loosely based on the Fibonacci number sequence, Donaldson-Evans says.

“The pattern of light gray and dark gray is simply an attempt to mitigate the fact that we have a building that is the length of a football field and 44 feet high. With this very long, simple volume, we wanted to break it up. It’s basically like camouflage. It’s a big box and we were trying to use the metal panel itself to add some visual interest, but require no detailing, and it was very simple to achieve.”

Photo: Halkin Mason Photography LLC

Use, Budget Fit Metal

The building’s conventional steel framing and corrugated metal envelope contributed to multiple project goals including making future changes to the building easier than with other building methods, Donaldson-Evans says. The metal-centric design also met the school’s budget. “It’s a conventional steel frame, and it’s a hybrid of brace frame and moment connections, so there are large areas that are column free. The benefit of that was a simplicity of construction, and an expediency in terms of being able to build the building quickly, being able to come back and modify that building. The client loves to renovate their space as their style of teaching and educational programs evolve, they love to be able to take down walls, expand classrooms or shift the way that they’re organized. And this as a metal building gave us a really flexible framework that was robust enough to change during design and accommodate future changes as they grow and evolve as an educational institution.”

Photo: Halkin Mason Photography LLC