Ken Ross/Alamy

The controversial, ‘powerfully unorthodox’ L.A. high school

Above is a public high school.

Opened in 2009, Grand Arts High School has been called among the most controversial pieces of architecture to be built in Southern California in a generation.

Rising from downtown Los Angeles, its most dramatic feature is the performing arts building, which includes a soaring fly tower wrapped in a waterslide-like form. Some critics, while receptive to the bold architectural gesture, couldn’t condone the cost of the project: $232 million at a time of extreme need among many district students.

Christopher Hawthorne, the L.A. Times architecture critic, called the school “a powerfully unorthodox new landmark” but noted with dismay how public school design seemed to fall into only two categories: either crushingly banal or wildly extravagant. Still, for many of its students, the setting has been a thrilling place to come of age.

“Like them,” Hawthorne wrote, “it is something of a proud outcast: gangly, dreamy, and beautiful at the same time, trying to make its way in a culture that tends to prize familiarity over strangeness and sameness over individuality. For a teenager who dreams of becoming an artist or a dancer, and has maybe not always found that ambition popular or easily understood by others in his family or neighborhood, what kind of campus could be better?”

Below, a few more views.

Jamie Pham/Alamy
RYX1FD Busy evening traffic in downtown LA on 101 freeway next to the Ramon C. Cortines School of Visual and Performing Arts.

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