Little Tiger is a Chinese language immersion school for pre-k, kinder, and lower elementary education. It is located in a residential neighborhood in central Austin. After operating at capacity out of a converted residential bungalow and portions of an adjacent church building, the school added a new one-room classroom structure to create a small scale campus and increase enrollment. The project utilizes provisions in the Austin development code for compatible uses, such as community schools, on residential zoned properties, which creates a more diverse urban fabric within the typical single family residential neighborhood.
The new building sits behind the existing 1940’s bungalow, at the back of the residential lot alongside the adjacent church. Little Tiger activities take place in all three buildings, so it was important to create a sense of community and campus identity with the placement of the new classroom structure. The 735 square foot structure occupies the back portion of the school’s property and creates a small yard between the existing and new buildings. The compatibility setback prescribed by the development code creates a larger yard to the north, which serves as a larger open area for outdoor activities. A large, low window faces this yard, connecting the classroom to the adjacent green space. The overall result is an eclectic campus of different building types connected by informal outdoor spaces and sidewalks.
The building itself is inspired by the historic American one-room schoolhouse - with an iconic gable form, rectangular footprint, belfry, and single classroom space. Its size and scale is tailored to the primary occupants, all of whom are under four feet tall. The gable shape has very low eaves that reduce the scale of the building (an adult can touch the roof overhangs easily). All the windows in the classroom are child-height. A long, low window bay along the north wall doubles as a reading nook and built-in bench. The exterior material palette consists of white painted cement board and paint-grip metal, which fits into the neighborhood context and existing campus aesthetic.
The main classroom is a single, vaulted space that accommodates 12-15 students. Abundant daylighting is provided by a continuous skylight along the peak of the roof that tempers the strong Texas sunlight through a series of deep vertical light baffles. During certain times of the year, small patches of sunlight dapple the floor: at all other times the light is diffuse and indirect.
Since the property is zoned residential, the owner wanted the option of reverting the school buildings back to residential use. The new structure was designed with this in mind. With small adjustments, the building could function as an auxiliary dwelling unit; the water closet rooms can combine to create a full bathroom, the kitchenette can convert to efficiency kitchen, and the utility loft would function as a sleeping loft. To minimize the amount of retrofitting, utility connections for possible future uses were installed and capped. In addition, a hookup for a future solar array was provided for the south-facing roof.
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