Concrete Solutions:  The Architecture of Public High Schools During the "Urban Crisis"

Howard D. Woodson High School, Washington D.C. 2008

Imagine a moment in which the convergence of failed integration policy, rapid suburbanization, cross-continental idealism in educational pedagogy, Brutalism, and Black Power brought forth an unwaveringly bold and powerful statement about high school design.  Then imagine a mere 36 years later the silence of that narrative, obscured by abject neglect, failure to maintain a once powerful educational monument, and ultimately, demolition.  This is the story of Howard D. Woodson High School in Washington, D.C.  Woodson is not an anomaly, it sits within a larger context of school design for cities that were struggling to face a complex set of challenges in the 1960s and 1970s including suburbanization, urban riots, segregated residential patterns, and concentrated poverty.

How should the legacy of these "urban crisis" schools be remembered?  Are these Brutalist architectural structures - considered harsh, yet undeniably sculptural - ill-suited for 21st century education?  What are some of the challenges that administrators face in maintaining and preserving these buildings?  This study will look at these questions, situating high school structures like Woodson within the frameworks of historic preservation and African American cultural heritage.