29 February 2016

An elementary school for the 21st century - new Angier School opens

Original Angier School, circa 1921.

On Friday, February 26, I attended the official opening of the first all-new elementary school to be built in Newton in fifty years.  The new Angier School replaces the original building from 1921, named for Newton native Albert E. Angier II, who left his Harvard studies to fight in WWI. He was killed in action in September, 1918, and received the Distinguished Service Cross posthumously.  The building had not aged well, and it is very difficult to bring these older institutional structures in to conformance with modern energy and barrier-free building codes. After a long, convoluted planning process, the new building is finally here, and it's a winner.

The new building, designed by DiNisco architects, has a fairly straight-forward layout - classrooms and other spaces on both sides of a central corridor. As seen in the image below, the media center, aka the library (in yellow), turns a corner at one end of the corridor, and the gym (in coral) forms an "ell" at the other end.

Planning stage, courtesy http://www.wabanareacouncil.com/issue/angier-school-project

Construction almost complete, courtesy http://joslinlesser.com/projects/k-12/angier-elementary-school/

Front facade, nearing completion. Image from the "Angier Building cam."

Entrance, new Angier school.

If I have a quibble with the building, it's that the exterior is a bit busy - a veritable catalog of exterior cladding materials, including stone veneer, terra cotta units, and several different types of metal panels in several different colors. However the interior is light and bright, low maintenance without being clinical, and the windows are operable!

Mayor Setti Warren addresses audience in the new gym.

The opening ceremony program began with attendees - students, staff and faculty, parents, neighbors, and dignitaries - reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. Remarks by the principal Loreta Lamberti and Mayor Warren followed. Jack McCarthy, of the funding agency Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) also spoke, mentioning that the Angier project came in on time and on budget, in contrast to Newton's previous project, Newton North High School. This bit of editorializing was unnecessary, and was the only down note during an otherwise very upbeat occasion. 

Final comments came from Superintendent David Fleishman, followed by songs by the students - the highlight for this attendee - and an emotional ribbon-cutting, with giant scissors wielded by Ms. Lamberti.

Music teacher Ms. Goldstein leads students in song.

The "cafetorium".

While the students returned to class and prepared for dismissal, we older folks were invited to the "cafetorium", a portmanteau of auditorium and cafeteria, for coffee and cake.

Celebratory cake.

The school was open for self-guided exploration, but 5th graders were on hand to lead more structured tours, and I joined one led by a very articulate and poised young lady named Lily.

Dedicated art room.

Art room.

The art room is to die for. The media center, which I suspect is still referred to as a library by most folks, had plenty of books, but also headsets and computer stations.

Media center.

Upper floor plan.

All the specialist spaces - art, music, library - are located on the first floor of this three-story building.  Lily led us up the stairs to the second floor, which houses kindergarten, first and second grades. Each room has a white board with overhead projectors, as well as rather nifty chairs, which are "tip-proof" and stack neatly onto the desks. 


The outdoor space - recess is key, after all - features two climbing structures, as well as a play field for games.

Climbing structure, almost ready for use.

After-school program kids at play.

Going forward, Newton is replacing or renovating multiple schools, and seems to be in good hands with the Owner's Project Manager, Joslin/Lesser and Associates, who handled the Angier project, and will also oversee current and future projects.  Few small cities  have the in-house expertise to ensure a good outcome with such complicated building projects, so the small (compared to the overall budget) extra expense of professional oversight is well worth it.

21 February 2016

Celebrating Blue - cyanotypes at the Worcester Art Museum

Annie Lopez, Medical Conditions, printed on paper and stitched, 2013.
The Worcester Art Museum is  over-shadowed by Boston's Museum of Fine Arts, and we don't visit this marvelous institution as frequently as it deserves.  Prompted by an article in the New York Times, we went to see Cyanotypes: Photography's Blue Period, an exhibit showcasing 78 works by 40 artists, including photography pioneers such as Anna Atkins,  and contemporary names like Christian Marclay. (Thank you for driving, Alex and Robin.)

Artists are continually confronted by disruptive technology, but for over 150 years photographers, both professional and amateur alike, have created cyanotypes, on paper and fabric, in a process basically unchanged since the method was discovered by British chemist John Frederick Herschel (1792-1871).

View of exhibit.

Anna Atkins, Honey Locust Leaf and Pod, circa 1854.
In the process, a mixture of potassium ferricyanide and ammonium ferric citrate is brushed onto paper or cloth.  After the cloth or paper dries, away from direct light, a photographic negative or an object is placed on the substrate, which is then exposed to sunlight.  Following exposure, the print is washed in water, and the ferrous ions react with the potassium ferricyanide to produce ferric ferrocyanide, or Prussian blue.

The chemicals involved are stable, posed little or no particular health hazard as long as they are not ingested, and making the prints involves no darkroom. Hence it was a popular medium for amateur photographers, who made the three postcards below, using photographic negatives.

Three home-made cyanotype postcards, early 1900's.

This ease of use, however, seems to have made the medium unsuitable for "real" photographers, such as  Edward Sheriff Curtis, who "proofed", or tested, his negatives using this quick and easy process.

Edward Curtis, Clayoquot Shaman Woman, circa 1915.

Although quilt makers such as Tafi Brown are part of the current cyanotype revival, the only textile work in this show was a large linen piece by Hugh Scott-Douglas; the darker areas are formed by the irregular distribution of iron salts. The monochromatic palette means that tonal variations have a heightened impact, especially in contrast to the rigid grid.

Hugh Scott-Douglas, Untitled, 2012.

As long as the object being printed is in close contact with the paper or fabric, the medium handles details extremely well, as seen below in this print of a piece of lace.  Contemporary artists often use plexiglass on top of the object or negative,  to form a "sandwich" while the print is exposed to light.  This is how Annie Lopez made the prints for the dress in the first image in this post, above. A meditation on her father's Alzheimer's disease, Ms. Lopez printed images, using acetate negatives, onto tamale paper, which her family uses every Christmas, and found the paper held together well through printing and stitching.

Maker unknown, Lace Sample, French, early 20th century.

The exhibit was organized by Nancy Burns, Assistant Curator at the Worcester Museum, and Kristina Wilson, Associate Professor of Clark University; Dr. Wilson's students prepared engaging essays for the excellent catalog, ISBN 978-0-936042-06-0. For those wishing to experiment with the process, prepared fabric and paper, as well as the chemical preparations, can be found at http://www.blueprintsonfabric.com/index.php