There is concern, from Principal Thomas Whittle, “that the sleek new campus filled with expensive equipment and far more open and accessible than its battened-down predecessor, will be a target for neighborhood thieves, who stole football bleachers for the aluminum when the old school was razed.”
It’s good that Whittle is concerned, but it’s also good that the architects weren’t primarily concerned about those things.
What’s encouraging about the new Woodson is that it appears not to be a architectural experiment. It looks much like any other American high school — no banks of escalators to malfunction, no sardine-tight staircases, few expanses of bare concrete.
The old Woodson — and its sister high-rise high school, Dunbar — were products of an architecture of fear. They were built only a few years after the urban riots of the late 1960s, and the thinking was that if kids had fewer windows to break, they would break fewer of them. If the walls could be easily cleaned of graffiti, they wouldn’t tag them. If the floor layouts didn’t give them an opportunity to mass in one place, they wouldn’t riot, and so forth. But the aggregate effect of all these architectural innovations was a dismal place to go to school. It was bitterly ironic, considering the school’s namesake, Howard Dilworth Woodson, was a distinguished civil engineer, and his son Granville Woodson served as head fo facilities for the D.C. Public Schools.
What is more important than the design is the city’s commitment to maintaining this jewel. In reporting my Woodson story, I heard plenty about how the old school was immaculately kept until the late ’80s and early ’90s, when city budgets were squeezed and the school went into a spiral of neglect, resulting in, for instance, the abandonment of its Olympic-size pool.
So be warned, city officials of the future, don’t stint on the upkeep or our $102 million investment could squandered in less than three decades.
For some perspective, here’s the Post story on the original Woodson’s 1972 opening: