SilverChips, Blair High School's student newspaper, posted on their website this time-lapse video of "crowd movement" in the school throughout the day. It looks not unlike the busy sidewalks of a city, but that's exactly how the administrators and designers of Blair's current campus, which opened in 1998 in Four Corners, wanted it to be.
Each of Blair's hallways is named like a street: Silver Spring Avenue, Sligo Creek, and so on. There's also a "Main Street," called Blair Boulevard, which winds its way across the school and connects the cafeteria to the auditorium and gymnasium. Three stories high, over five hundred feet long, and done up in bright blues and reds, it's more than a hallway. It's the main street for a city of some 2,788 students.
Architects SHW Group of Calverton, who designed the current Blair High School in 1998, created Blair Boulevard to fix a major problem from the school's former campus, built in 1935. Composed of several, disconnected buildings, the Old Blair was ideal for students who wanted to skip out between classes but frustrating for administrators. The new Blair High School would have everything under one roof, but there had to be a way to organize everything.
SHW intended for Blair Boulevard to work like a "Main Street in a small town in that it is the primary way to access all major storefronts of that town." Looking at a floorplan of the school, you can see how all of the school's parts are arranged along Blair Boulevard, which runs diagonally. Smaller streets branch out from it into classroom wings, while another street runs parallel to the Boulevard, giving students alternative ways to move throughout the school.
In short, it's a city plan. After Blair opened, Post architecture critic Benjamin Forgey refers to it as a "shopping mall surrounded by a sea of asphalt," but he speaks fondly of the Boulevard, noting that it allows "casual get-togethers among students." A simple idea, but a powerful one. I don't remember a lot of my classes in high school, but I remember talking to my friends during our open lunch or during passing time. These times are as important as science or English: they taught us how to interact with people, how to act in public, how identify with something greater than ourselves.
As former principal Phil Gainous, who presided over the nine-year design process for the new school, puts it:
"The main hallway, dubbed Blair Boulevard, was named and designed by students. This idea for an area where kids could come together and congregate came from the students. We all had input into the process. We’re really proud because it’s our building."
Proof positive that a good public space can make a stronger community, whether it's an ice cream shop, an actual plaza, or a school hallway.