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Ann Richards Middle School
La Joya, Tex.
Kell Mu?z Architects

Honoring la Joya?s Mexican culture, Kell Mu?z Architects creates an oasis of color in a hot bleached landscape

By David Dillon


© Paul Bardagjy

For more photos click on 'photos & drawings' above.

To see the people and products behind this project click on 'people & products.'

The Ann Richards Middle School, designed by Kell Muñoz Architects, of San Antonio, and named for the state’s tart-tongued former governor, captures both the reality and the resilience of the town. Its architecture is direct and pragmatic, yet also playful and visually exuberant. Stucco walls glow red, blue, green, mustard, and magenta, the colors of Mexico and the desert. Several are covered with cracked Italian tiles that seem to vibrate in the South Texas sun.

The heart of the school is a large open plaza, similar to those in the small Mexican towns from which many La Joya residents come. It is paved in concrete bricks, with a grid of live oak trees and a small pavilion, or kiosko, for festivals and performances. The plaza is the social and cultural center of the school, where students mingle between classes and return in the evenings and on weekends for special events. Former governor Richards, known to teachers and students as comadre, or godmother, bought the furniture for the plaza and often donates the honoraria from speaking engagements in the valley for books and programs.

Kell Muñoz designed the school for 1,000 students, a number that has now grown to 1,250. All of them are Title I, and most are economically and linguistically disadvantaged, meaning that for them school is more than a place to learn English and math; it is a refuge and a sanctuary. Each grade (six, seven, and eight) has its own classroom wing, long one-story rectangles with bright walls and black and white linoleum floors. Theater, dance, art, and music classes are held in adjacent buildings, which are linked by simple metal awnings that provide protection from the sun and rain. (La Joya is a center for mariachi music, and on many days visitors to the school are greeted by the sound of guitars and trumpets.) The gymnasium occupies a large, prefabricated metal building that fits the low-budget, ad hoc aesthetic of the school and the region.

The architectural showpiece is the library, with its cracked tile walls and 20-foot hyperbolic paraboloid roof that rests on a single Mayan-style column in the center
of the room. These bold forms were developed by Mexican architect Felix Candela and adapted by John Kell’s mentor, O’Neil Ford, for schools and factories around Texas. They make the library a special place, where books and reading can open the door to the wider world.

See the March 2003 issue of Architectural Record for full coverage of this project

Formal name of Project:
Ann Richards Middle School

Location:
La Joya, Tex.

Gross square footage:
130,171 sq ft

Total construction cost:
$8.4 million

Owner:
La Joya Independent School District

Architect:
Kell Muñoz Architects, Inc.
800 NW Loop 410, Suite 700 N
San Antonio, Texas 78216
T: 210.349.1163
F: 210.525.1038

 

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