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Take Pride in America

“The school plant is an integral part of the culture.
It is part and parcel of the times. Typical buildings constructed in the
decade of the fifties would have been out of place and
could not have been built in the decade of the twenties.”

-Planning America’s School Buildings, 1960

What changed between 1920 and 1950?

The greatest difference is that “the old school was primarily designed to impress the adult and the new school primarily designed to impress and provide comfort to the pupil.”
- Toward Better School Design, 1954


Smiley Middle School - Denver


Wilmore-Davis Elementary School -
Wheat Ridge

Why were so many schools built in the 1950s?

  • Midcentury modern design
  • Introduction of new materials and innovations in building technology
  • Physical representation of new educational philosophies
  • Baby boom, 1950s optimism

Why were so many schools built in the 1950s?

  • Few new schools built in the 1930s and 1940s
  • Rising birth rate
  • School district reorganization
  • Population movement into suburban areas

Red Rocks Elementary School - Morrison

Beyond the 3 R's (Reading, Writing and Arithmatic):
The emotional and social development of the child

Boston Elementary School - Aurora
  • Children need “pleasant and non-confining surroundings, inspiring environment, friendly, restful, and secure atmosphere, and colorful spaces.” -Toward Better School Design, 1954
  • Home-like environment
  • Child-scale
  • Emphasize friendliness
  • Social spaces important- make hallways entrances, and courtyards places for students to gather and interact

Aesthetic Education

School surroundings should nurture a child’s appreciation of beauty; “Can we expect them, coming from ugly school surroundings, to be able as adults to assume civic responsibility, to participate in cultural undertakings, and to recognize the finer attributes of a civilized society?”
-Planning America’s School Buildings, 1960

Stein Elementary School - Lakewood

Flexibility and Informality

  • Use new technology to create large open spaces, unobstructed by pillars and posts
  • Movable partitions and furniture
  • Multi-use spaces. Design classrooms in which singing, dancing, creative arts, and dramatics can take place


  • Emphasize site planning; incorporate landscaping into design
  • Single-story design
  • Schools located on larger plots of land
  • According to 1950s design manuals, landscaping prevents impersonal, institutional-like coldness and adds warmth and friendliness

Heath Middle School - Greeley

Characteristic Features

  • Indoor/Outdoor spaces
  • Large bands of windows to let light in
Mann Middle School - Colorado Springs

Widefield High School - Colorado Springs

Wilson Preschool - Colorado Springs

Cory Elementary School-Denver

Grant Middle School-Denver

Out of the Box

  • Designed to accommodate future expansion
  • Provide suitable surroundings for each subject taught. Separate noisy and quiet spaces
  • “a little village where students may learn and love as good citizens, just as they must do some day as adults in larger communities”
  • “Beauty which comes from good composition of the most suitable materials, used honestly and openly to express the function of the school . . . (is) the kind of beauty which expresses the ideology of the American people.” -Toward Better School Design, 1954