About GenslerOnCities

What makes cities tick? GenslerOnCities explores the planning, design, and the potential futures of urban landscapes.

Search GenslerOn
Cities Topics
Connect with Us
« A Place for a Mission: The San Francisco AIDS Foundation Center on Castro Street | Main | BoomTown: Common Interests Trump Common Ages »

Reimagining High School: Envisioning RISE High

Image © Gensler

XQ: The Super School Project began two years ago as an open challenge to America’s educators and creative professionals to reimagine high school as we know it and, in doing so, to revolutionize the education of our nation’s future. That challenge was accepted by over 700 teams from across the country who submitted applications for the opportunity to form 10 new schools, catalyzed by a $10 million grant provided by Laurene Powell Jobs.

Eighteen months ago, Kari Croft was the principal of an unusual school that didn’t exist when she approached me with an even more unusual challenge: build a school for transient youth that is itself transient—education on wheels. RISE High is a school that seeks to educate and provide a semblance of home for the thousands of young Angelinos whose lives have little of either, an innovative model designed to service students from a variety of backgrounds and learning needs, including homeless and foster youth.

Under the guidance of my colleague, Nathan Kim (an architect in Gensler’s L.A. office), and in partnership with the Breakfast Club (a group in Gensler’s L.A. office that advocates for women in design leadership roles), I sought out a group of talented young designers hungry for a unique architectural challenge that would serve as testament to the transformative power that design can wield when brought to the service of our society. This assembled team collaborated with staff, students and a host of amazing partners to help spatially interpret the new school that the educators at RISE High had imagined for their work.

Image © Gensler

Six months and many long nights later XQ named our team one of the 10 recipients of the Super School Project competition. My excitement knowing that these students would have a newly designed academic home manifested as a very enthusiastic and unsettling victory dance after the announcement was released. You can check out what happened when the team found out they had won here.

As much as I would love to claim that our design acumen was the lynchpin to the team’s success, RISE High won this competition because of the tireless work of the educators, students and advocates who have and will continue to dedicate their lives to an incredibly simple, yet novel premise: the hand life has dealt a child should not be the governing factor that defines their access to stability, education, and in consequence their future. Their website explains it best, “RISE High seeks to create a highly responsive, holistic, and integrated model that meets students who are disconnected from school where they are, geographically, academically, socially and emotionally, and will open up clear pathways to college and career.”

A huge part of our proposal was a mobile school that occupies the voids in educational coverage unfilled by the traditional schoolhouse. The needs of these young people transcends far beyond books and a blackboard. Arithmetic will always be a secondary concern to a child who hasn’t showered in two weeks. RISE High needs to provide not just the facilities of learning but the facilities for preparing to thrive in an educated evolving society. On top of everything else, the school needed to (literally) move with its student body all across the vast city of Los Angeles.

Image © Gensler

The problem was thus unique and necessitated an equally unique solution. Gensler’s team received an internal research grant from Gensler’s L.A. office to examine mobile education technology. As architects, we have struck upon a stimulating typology with new codes and restraints, coupled with new possibilities developed to apply to RISE High. It has been an incredible experience to come together with passionate designers to donate time and skills to a mission as socially imperative as it is technically challenging.

We continue to collaborate with RISE High and the Da Vinci Family. The team is excited to share our future projects with you as they are realized. Even now, the results of our labor are beginning to come to fruition. In the last year, 11 students have graduated from RISE High and they are now opening a second location.

Tune in to see some of RISE High’s students being honored at XQ Live this Friday, Sept. 8.

Aaron Gensler is an architectural designer in Gensler’s Los Angeles office. She co-founded The Breakfast Club, a group in Gensler’s L.A. office that advocates for women in design leadership roles. She helped lead Gensler’s multi-year “Future of Work” initiative in partnership with UCLA’s cityLAB. Aaron is passionate about making an impact through design. Contact her at Aaron_Gensler@Gensler.com.