Theses Master's

Architecture of Academic Innovation: Progressive Pedagogy, Modernist Design, and Perkins and Will's Heathcote Elementary in Post-War America

Ward, Hugh

This thesis examines the post-war progressive modernist suburban elementary school design. Political and social movements, new design and construction methods, and progressive pedagogies growing awareness of differentiated modes of learning influenced this type of school that became more apparent throughout the 1940s and 1950s in America. The wealth after World War II saw the ideas from the Progressive 1930s come to life in post-war Modernist schools. Using both formal analysis and social history, the paper delineates a range of social and design developments culminating in the post-war period, as pertains to school buildings. To fortify the background information, the thesis includes a case study of Heathcoate Elementary School. The Scarsdale, New York school, designed in 1953 by leading school architecture firm Perkins & Will, is an outstanding example of the type as the designers, school board of Scarsdale, and community worked together to create a learning environment that included John Dewey's progressive education philosophies and smart and sleek modernist design. The study shows how school buildings developed into innovative designs that responded to the technological changes, creation of cultural pertinent curriculums, health and safety consciousness, as well as pedagogical shifts and modernized educational practices. The case study shows how such factors were met with modified environments, classroom space and flexible designs, while still keeping abreast of trends in Modern architecture and educational theory. The thesis concludes that the philosophies espoused in the progressive movement are reflected in the design of these schools. As bastions of both social and design experiment, these schools are part of a noteworthy typology. They are special and worth protection, especially with the Modern movement reaching a vital point in its preservation history and with very few having been considered for the National Register.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Historic Preservation
Thesis Advisors
Otero-Pailos, Jorge
M.S., Columbia University
Published Here
July 20, 2015