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Sanjay Gangal
Sanjay Gangal
Sanjay Gangal is the President of IBSystems, the parent company of, MCADCafe, EDACafe.Com, GISCafe.Com, and ShareCG.Com.

Cleveland Design Competition: A New School Vision in Cleveland, Ohio by Organic Scapes and Architecture

November 23rd, 2011 by Sanjay Gangal

Article source: Organic Scapes and Architecture

The project proposal for the Campus International School for Downtown Cleveland illustrates the transformation of Cleveland State University’s master plan for converting the area into a dense mixed-use development and with recreation fields. The quotation ”an opportunity to re-evaluate the broader terrain in which children learn and give as great an emphasis on learning environments as others have given the educational philosophies” formed the basis for our proposal.

School Entrance

  • Architects: Organic Scapes and Architecture
  • Project: Cleveland Design Competition: A New School Vision
  • Location: Cleveland, OH, USA
  • Projects team: Gabriel Belli Butler and Stefano Rocchetti.
  • Client: Campus International School
  • Program: Educational – School
  • Site area: 294,615 sq-ft
  • Design period: 2011
  • Gross Floor Ratio: 90,000 sq-ft

Landscape Roof

A key aim of the design is to produce a safe learning environment for the students. The flexible classroom design and “street” layout of the school encourages different age groups of children to meet and learn together, while the main circulation space between the classrooms, student dining, media center and recreational spaces is an additional learning hub. The proposed plan layout avoids hidden corners and blind spots, and careful thought has been given to landscaping to provide different types of outdoor play space including areas for learning, planting, quiet zones and games. Each classroom has direct access to the outdoor playgrounds and views to the surrounding buildings.


The basis of the design is centered around four clusters of education: learning, growing, recreation, and social interaction. We believe these to be the foundations of the new school vision, allowing for a complex program where students can interact with each other and the city of Cleveland.  Instead of opting for a linear and continuous distribution of these four clusters, the project design proposes a combined, more playful combination of spaces through the use of curves and organic shapes.

Our vision for the Campus International School is to establish an open learning environment as such that the site will be a landscape for future and extended learning. By creating an environment that will promote and sustain continuous learning, it will make learning a part of everyday life.

Interior View


The first step at analyzing the surrounding context and immediate site conditions of the Campus International School was through a clear understanding of the future development of the area which is  mainly focused on the new expansion plans for Cleveland State University.

Several observations captured our interests:

1. The new university campus seeks to create functional and visual links to the city by expanding the campus life as well as providing a network of green spaces along Euclid Avenue (the Euclid Ribbon).
2. The Euclid Ribbon will become the main artery of the new university campus.
3. There will be three campus sectors: the Academic Core, the South Campus and the North Campus.
4. The proposed school site is located along the North Campus Neighborhood which is mostly defined by sports fields, residential, green areas and parking.
5. There is a strong emphasis on maintaining and enhancing all green spaces.

Honeycomb structure

The most important and eminent design advantage of the proposed site is being part of an existing and growing academic environment or academic cluster, belonging to the current revitalization of Downtown Cleveland.  Social involvement within this academic cluster is essential for the role of creative and innovative thinking.  By innovative reinforcement, a continuous flow of new ideas can be sustained facilitating constant renewal, while attracting international participation which can enhance the value of the proposed school.  These are the basics for an Open Learning Environment approach.



The design of the project proposal derives from identifying four essential clusters of education: learning, growing, recreation, and social interaction.  These clusters were chosen based on what we consider to be the backbone of every academic institution.


The learning cluster

It is based on the life span of classrooms and teacher/student interaction from Elementary School to Middle School to High School.  These are the three cores that define the school’s footprint, and are located at opposite sides to allow for clarity of program distribution.

The growing cluster

Similar to the learning cluster, it spans the entire life cycle of the student but refers to more specific activities that are essential to the intellectual growth of any student.  Some of these activities are: music, visual arts, media, technology and all special education courses within the school’s academic curriculum.  The media center is also a part of this cluster.

The recreation cluster

It is based on green spaces and sports facilities, whether inside or outside.  These are the spaces essential for every student’s physical, mental and health condition.

The social interaction cluster

At the core of the academic program rests that comfortable in-between space of social interaction and personal exposure to peers.  These are spaces of circulation, learning hubs, and student dining. Because of their curved nature, they provide a sense of connectivity and continuity throughout the school.

Diagrams 2


De-compression of the program allows for the integration of opened green spaces that maximizes the use of the site while providing students with generous spaces for recreation.  The proposed school plan distribution has been treated as the interweaving of spaces between three educational cores: the Elementary, Middle and High School blocks.  The programmatic advantage created by this distribution allows for constant interrelation of the schools located on opposite sides of the plan. All of the program pertaining to the growing and social interaction clusters collide in the middle, becoming an essential distribution space for maximizing the functionality of the proposed school program.

Placing the major common areas at strategic points within the varying adjacent functions facilitates the interrelation of the total project.  The resulting spatial qualities of the interior spaces are treated as a ”covered” fluid landscape for students to meet, contrasting with the ”opened” urban landscape above the school where everybody else including the students can interact.

Bird's eye view


The interior spatial qualities of curved boundaries allow for a fluid, more playful circulation.  These particular edge conditions inside a building generate an extension of various spaces performing like a landscape, rather than an interior space with enclosed rooms.  A unique spatial sequence is created with the smooth shape and the random layout of curves. Once you step into the space, you are naturally drawn inside as you interact with the different expressions of the curves.  Such characteristic of a space is very effective in buildings that promote social interaction, a sense of drift, and playful discovery.

This curved interior layout also brings out complex routes. Instead of a linear movement from ”A” to ”B”, a complex route will bring about continuous fresh impressions of the space while avoiding boredom. The students will experience various movements such as taking a side trip, a loop, or coming to the same position by surprise!  The curves therefore become the background of the school’s interior circulation.  People who visit the school will appreciate the atmosphere of learning hubs filled with students along this social interaction cluster. Furthermore, by placing unique furniture in-between the curved circulation, a new character of the space will be created, producing a fresh atmosphere by arranging them according to age and/or academic interests during semesters.

These internal corridors or covered pedestrian streets serve as an efficient cross circulation that links all the learning clusters to the growing and recreational clusters, allowing for social interaction.  The students can interact freely within the internal street and yet control the level of public access and public exposure to the outside.


The vibrant and inspiring environment created in the project proposal will take form as a new type of urban edge typology: an urban landscape.  A place where the city’s urban density may be experienced by different users, yet paced down to the natural environment which it attempts to regenerate.  With the introduction of a new green space, a low building elevation and minimized asphalt surface at ground level, the proposed school can truly be a sustainable building.  This site sensitive approach that allows for a clear social interaction with the city will be the reason for students to choose to move to this location.

Nature in Urbanity refers to the integration of new added natural qualities to the site, whilst accommodating a certain level of exposure to nature.  In the current planning scheme for Cleveland University’s ”Building Blocks for the Future” campus master plan, the integration of nature into the overall site plays a decisive role in the distribution of the different academic program.  Taking into account the importance and strong emphasis this concept has on the entire campus plan, the project proposal attempts to push further, if not challenge the overall concept of Nature in Urbanity by converting the entire site into a public/semi-private green park for Downtown Cleveland.

Two inner courtyards punctuate along the internal circulation of the proposed school.  These are outdoor gathering spaces where group events, games, or small sculpture exhibitions can take place.  Because of its visual connection to the covering landscape above, these courtyards will become an interface between the students and the visiting public above.


The building facades retrieve away from the site boundaries, allowing for open spaces that define the different entrances to the school.  A student bus drop-off zone has been designated on the edge of East 18th Street, making this the only vehicular access for students, parents, staff and visitors.  On the site edge along Superior Avenue there is an open space for a the GCRTA #3 bus stop.  This site boundary will be accessed also by car and thus adjacent parking along Superior Avenue is considered.

An new adjacent street off East 21st Street will provide service access to the school’s kitchen, storage and building services.  Controlled access to this street will be provided.  Access from Payne Avenue will mostly be pedestrian, and students will be expected to interact with the university campus located South of the site.

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