Morphosis Diamond in the Rough
by Alice Y. Kimm, AIA
If buildings really do reflect society's values, we can applaud the new Diamond Ranch High School in Diamond Bar, California. Here is a place where social conscience coexists comfortably with creativity and imagination. These qualities are all permanently inscribed in the landscape of the campus and its form.
Morphosis principal Thom Mayne, project architect John Enright, and executive architect Thomas Blurock Architects, have given us a rare example of architecture that not only inspires but educates. As it reflects both the client's and architects' belief in our children's futures, the project differs radically from other public schools' use of shoddy trailers masquerading as classrooms.
Overlooking a typical Southern California tableau of freeways and sprawl, the 72-acre hillside campus is laid out in cascading terraces. The hillside had been believed impractical, if not impossible, to build on. Two years of grading preceded building construction. At the top of the hill are football fields; at the bottom, soccer fields and tennis courts. Sandwiched in between are two lines of buildings with a pedestrian street running down the middle.
The simplicity of this parti is deceptive when examining the manner in which the two rows of buildings interact across the dividing street. The rows are divided into clusters, each of which has its own set of classrooms separated according to discipline, as well as its own courtyard.
Students, faculty, and administration can move freely between clusters. The crisscrossing has the effect of splitting the building lines into smaller fragments, perhaps more reminiscent of Morphosis' early project organizations. The breaking up of the linear mass into functional units also has the effect of creating various types and sizes of communal spaces.
The detailing at the schools is simple and functional.
Photo: John Enright
At the Diamond Ranch High School, clusters of roof forms seem to lean across the pedestrian spine towards each other.
Photo: Brandon Welling