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Crawford High, Multimedia and Visual Arts School (San Diego)


Your School: Multimedia and Visual Arts School (MVAS) – Crawford Complex

Partner Description:
Crawford High School was founded in 1957 and recently celebrated it’s 50th anniversary in 2007. The school was transformed in 2004 into an educational complex of four smaller, autonomous schools. MVAS is one of the small schools on campus with 400 students enrolled in grades 9-12. Students are actively recruited and choose to attend MVAS because of the career theme of Multimedia and Visual Arts. Additionally, the student population is primarily minority students many of whom are immigrants and refugees relocated from Mexico, Somalia, Burma, and many other locations from around the world. The Crawford Complex is located in East San Diego in the neighborhood of City Heights. The Crawford Complex is situated on 27 acres with 11 permanent buildings and 12 bungalows.

Partner Website

MVAS - Crawford Complex is located in the east San Diego neighborhood of City Heights. The neighborhood is urban, low-income, and high density and is experiencing some gentrification.

Our school is 50 years old and while some buildings and classrooms have been renovated, many buildings are the original structures. Additional bungalows have been added to the site as the number of students has fluctuated over the years. The classrooms are outmoded: cabinets have no doors, or are falling apart because of termites, the heating and ventilation system is controlled at the district office leaving the classroom cold and unheated in the morning and the heat on when it’s warm out, and the air intake for the classroom is near the restroom and often smells terrible. The building that houses the classroom had a fire in 2004 that left half of the building burned which needed to be rebuilt. While these classrooms were refurbished, the remaining classrooms in the building were left with outlets that don’t work, and faucets and gas fixtures that are unnecessary. There is no infrastructure for computers so Ethernet cables and power cables are strung all over the classroom when we use them.

Design Proposal:


Project Description

Program Thesis:

Extant teaching facilities throughout the United States are ill-equipped to answer the educational needs of the twenty-first century. Educators require facilities that not only house their students, but also engage them using existing and upcoming technologies. In this way, the classroom of the future will become an interactive environment as integral to the teaching process as the educator herself.


Many US high schools still operating today were constructed as far back as the 1950s. The majority of these reflect a dogmatic dedication to the pure functionality of the space with little regard to the natural environment in which they are situated. The end result is learning centers resembling places of incarceration rather than those where young minds are enlightened. Consequently, high school students become disinterested and unmoved by their environments.

Low-income public high schools - where funding concerns direct available monies not toward building a better classroom, but to acquiring the best teaching aids available – are especially prone to the struggles of having to teach within the confines of physical structures and spaces well past their prime in regard to their efficacy of design.

In East San Diego County, City Heights is a community composed primarily of a minority and immigrant population. Crawford High School, built in 1957, serves the majority of those students living in the area. Although San Diego County has numerous schools using solar panels and other forms of sustainable technology, many students in low income areas are left uninformed and, as a corollary, uninspired when it comes to new and emerging green technologies. Crawford High School is no exception to this.

There is hope, however. Spearheading an effort to increase the standard of education in her school and that of San Diego County is Michelle Raymond, a math teacher at Crawford High School. Ms. Raymond is a remarkable teacher and has implemented project-based learning – where classroom projects are intended to bring about deep learning and students use technology and inquiry to engage with issues and questions relevant to their lives – to encourage students to learn in different settings.

To accommodate Ms. Raymond’s new teaching method, the design team paired up with her ninth grade class to design a new environment to replace the existing modular classrooms. The desire for new facilities at Crawford High School is not without merit. In 2004, a devastating fire left the campus in serious disrepair. While some of the classrooms have been completely rebuilt, others were only serviced with topical repairs. Unfortunately, this left serious problems unaddressed, such as faulty wiring and termite infestation. The Crawford High students and faculty, along with the architects partnered to create a new prototype accommodating their dynamic curriculum.


Taking advantage of Southern California’s year-round sun exposure, an outside space was to be incorporated into the classroom design. This (and the given program: to replace a portable class on the school campus), allowed for an opportunity to increase the community’s interaction with the school. A collaborative classroom was now to become a collaborative space for the entire surrounding locale.

Over a period of 2 months, Ms. Raymond, her students and design team went through a process that resulted not only in the most efficient and fresh use of space, but also an informative one, educating the students about sustainability.

Materials and Methods:

Starting with the idea of project-based learning, the design team wanted the new classroom to become an experimental project for the school.


To begin the project, a simple and inexpensive form was needed. Used steel shipping containers, to be bought locally, would serve as a base for any type of environment to be created by the school. As a structural element, shipping containers provided the design team with a renewable resource possessing durability and a distinct aesthetic character.

In this design proposal, five shipping containers (10' D X 30' W x 8' H) were arranged to maximize the limited space restrictions of the site. Another container (10' D x 30 W x 10' H) was cut into individual sections and arranged in trellis-like fashion to create an outside learning environment.


One major concern associated with shipping container construction is insulation. How does one prevent what is essentially a large metal box from becoming an oven in the Southern California heat? The answer: Supertherm.

Supertherm is a LEED approved multi-ceramic spray-on coating capable of blocking 96% of the three solar heat sources: visual light, ultra violet and infrared rays. It is applied to the exterior of the shipping container and when dry, forms an extremely durable, non-yellowing, water-resistant coating. Unlike all other reflective paints now available - which offer only a single reflective ceramic - Supertherm is designed with four separate ceramic compounds for insulation from radiant heat, reflection, conduction and convection. The thickness of the material is 10mm when dry and it has an R-value of 19-20.

Since the insulation is being applied to the outside of the container, interior space is maximized.

Energy Needs:

Photovoltaic (solar) panels anchored to the roof of the classroom have the ability to power classroom computers, student laptops, lights, overhead projector(s), smart board boom, and all other electrical needs of the classroom. Solar panels help in the effort to stop global warming by reducing the amount of greenhouse gases emitted from coal-burning power plants.


A combination of solar tubes, skylights and storefront windows provide the main teaching space with an ample supply of natural light, requiring little need for artificial light sources. The renewable energy generated by the solar panels is utilized by other classroom sources.

Desks and Seating:

Desktops are manufactured from compressed paper. Paper and other pulp byproducts are treated with resin and baked to create a solid sheet. After the baking process, the paper layers are gradually crossed-linked with each other to create solid, durable sheets. Once the curing process is complete, the amassed structure is permanent and cannot be altered.

Desktops are affixed to supports bearing caster wheels, giving students the freedom to arrange their desks in a multitude ways. This assists the project-based curriculum by allowing for easy team interchange without the need for students to move all their materials from desk to desk.

Passive HVAC:

Tilt-up skylights are oriented to capture the air current coming off the Pacific Ocean. The influx of cooler air will displace any warmer air within the classroom, giving good circulation and natural climate control.

Teaching Tools:

Instead of blackboards, the walls are covered with white boards and display screens, powered by the solar panels. The teacher and her support staff make brief presentations as well as provide specific instruction to individual teams without disrupting the rest of the class. Students have the ability to work out related concepts in small groups or convene with their neighbors. Teachers and students conduct experiments together using the class computers.

Bamboo plywood is a LEED approved and FSC-certified building material. Bamboo is a considered to be a renewable resource due to its rapid growth rate and global abundance. When treated, bamboo forms a very hard wood which is both lightweight and durable.


4191 Colts Way
San Diego, California
United States

Competition Category Entered

Competition Details

  • Name: 2009 Open Architecture Challenge: Classroom
  • Host: Architecture for Humanity
  • Type: Public
  • Registration Deadline: May 4, 2009
  • Submission Deadline: June 1, 2009
  • Entry Fee: $25 USD Developed Nations , $0 USD Developing Nations
  • Award: $50,000 for the winning school for classroom construction and upgrading, and $5,000 stipend for the design team.
  • Contact: Sandhya
  • Status: Winners Announced

The competition entry ID for this project is 4472.

Project Details

NAME: Crawford High, Multimedia and Visual Arts School (San Diego)
LOCATION: 4191 Colts Way, San Diego, California, United States
START DATE: March 29, 2009
CURRENT PHASE: Design development
PROJECT TYPE: Education Facility - Secondary School
, Architecture for Humanity

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