The Whitney Academy is designed as a building where imagination meets circumstance. The inventor of the cotton gin and a leader in the development of the American system of manufacturing, Eli Whitney led the nation’s industrial revolution through the promotion of standardized interchangeable parts and division of labor. The site of Whitney’s first factory is now host to the Eli Whitney Museum and Workshop, a not-for-profit historic and educational organization established in 1979.
Located at the base of East Rock cliff, the Whitney Academy is embedded into the massive umber-color trap rock formation that defines the region. Enclosing the main central shop space, the more defined peripheral spaces provide intimate spaces for study. Each of the studio spaces is lit by a series of large skylights, which also function as solar chimneys and help naturally ventilate the building.
The institution has decided to expand its program to create the Whitney Academy, a response to an unaddressed pedagogical problem: the education of gifted students who do not thrive in a conventional academic setting but learn best through hands-on problem solving. It is an experimental learning workshop for students, teachers, and families which collects, interprets, and teaches experiments that are the roots of design and invention. Classes will include introductory design and technology courses featuring both traditional material and digital fabrication techniques. At the core of its program is an emphasis on building; classes are focused on utilizing the shop to realize thoughts of the imagination.
The roof system is an undulating landscape – iterative of prevalent regional formations – that becomes continuations of several public circulation routes existing on the site. The varying heights and sizes of the modular roof elements allow controlled amounts of light to penetrate the space below, and provide landscape furniture for the walkway above.
The building is bookended by an existing fuel storage shed, re-appropriated to become the Academy library, and an outdoor cafeteria. The underlying structural system is revealed in the trellis system covering the dining area.