Exploring

Purple Schools Without Windows

Just a block or two from my condo building, there is a new school. It used to be a hardware store, but they’ve been fixing it up for a year or more. Now it’s a college preparatory school. I don’t really know what that is, but the students all look to be about twelve, and they all wear uniforms.

When it was an ordinary lumber yard it had friendly staff and all the bits and pieces you need to maintain a home. They moved out a few years after Home Depot settled in down the road, and the building was sold to a charter school. It probably has friendly staff too, but who knows? Anyway, the children are vibrant, cheerful, and polite when I chance to pass them. The building they are in, however, is another issue entirely. It is purple and orange.

It is startling to see. I saw it for the first time a week or so ago, and yesterday I walked past it for the first time. It is loud, in-your-face, boisterous, and completely out of keeping with the styles and tones of the surrounding neighbourhood. It sits in an area of mixed-used commercial buildings, multi-ethnic residences, and an incipient gentrification.

Across the street is a Denny’s with a fading sign, cater-corner is a Wendy’s burger place, and on the opposite corner is the Department of Motor Vehicles. They are all au courant for the decade in which the neighbourhood was first established, and as a consequence, they are all various shades of beige. Primary colours were reserved for flags and signs, and secondary colours would have been a real stretch. So, purple is a bit of a slap in the face, architecturally speaking.

I wondered what had inspired this choice and was reminded of a time, at around 1980, when I lived in Canada’s Northwest Territories.  Then, the town of Hay River built a new school and asked its students what colour they should paint the building. I don’t know if a bribe was involved, or if a bargain was reached, but all I know is that the school wound up purple. From top to bottom, side to side.  It was, quite literally, the talk of the town.

This school was in the far north, enveloped in the snow for most of the year, in a fragile landscape occupied by indigenous peoples and non-native newcomers. Was it just that children love purple, or did they flip the adults the bird? We may never know.

This purple school in its often-white environment had no windows. It bothered me then, and it bothers me now, that this school did not allow its students a view of the outside world—a beautiful, vast, enticing outside world. I don’t know why there were no windows, but it was probably to keep the cold out and the heat in. Today, there would probably be better insulation and better-quality windows to allow light into and views out of the classrooms, but at the time I suppose that was not possible. I feel as though I have to suppose that because the alternative is to think that the people in authority did not want children to look beyond their classrooms. That doesn’t bear thinking about.

I have thought along those lines for decades until this week when I realized that this new school in an old building is also purple and also does not have windows. Why not? I noticed it first because it was purple and orange, but now I am noticing it because it does not allow the students to see the outside world. Was this an architectural or engineering decision, or was it philosophical?

There are a few windows near the entrance, but most of the building–which was originally designed to house building supplies–has no classroom windows. They spent a lot of time and money renovating the insides and beautifying the outsides, but they didn’t install windows adjacent to the classrooms. So, these charming, well-behaved, uniformed students have to focus inward. For years and years.

As you can tell, I am wrestling with two issues. One is why anyone would paint a huge building purple in an environment where this makes it both unusual and uncomfortable. The other is why any school would be designed without classroom windows. On balance, I think the window issue is more significant.

Have any of my readers attended a school without windows? If so, I would love to hear from you about your thoughts on this. Perhaps it was an advantage to focus on learning, and on teachers, and on textbooks. Perhaps not.

8 replies »

  1. My high school was built in 1967, and had no windows. The classroom walls were made of cinder blocks that had about a 2 foot gap at the top which was completely open. There were no doors on the rooms.The hallways were carpeted to reduce noise, but after about 2 years, doors were added and the gap was glassed in. I never thought much about having no windows – it prepared me well for my career in hospital pharmacy. The pharmacy is almost always in the basement and windowless.

    • That is really surprising, Susan. You must live somewhere warm if you can have a gap in the outside walls! I’m glad you didn’t find the lack of windows problematic and that it actually turned out to your advantage. It makes me wonder how many graduates of that school chose careers that required them to be in windowless environments.

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