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Where the Heart Is: Charles Rose and a Design for our Future

Geometry, natural light, and a seamless interplay with the landscape, provide viewers of Charles Rose’s architecture with the aesthetic satisfaction and feeling of awe one might experience, walking through the redwoods or a desert canyon. Mr. Rose’s interest in spatiality and attention to the surrounding environment results in buildings that are never out of place, and allow the natural elements to flow through. A number of times throughout our brief interview, Mr. Rose began his sentences, saying “By the time we get to form,” highlighting the depth and integrity of the firm’s design process. By the the time the team at Charles Rose Architects begins the actual building’s design, they have immersed themselves in intensive background work, understanding the mission and the purpose of the building, and the social fabric of the institutions and individuals who will use it. They consider the whole environment, the easy exchange between interior and exterior, the contours of the land, and how people move through the space. “ I guess I get that from eurythmy!” Charles proclaims. “Eurythmy is all about how we move within a space,” he says, adding, “I was the world’s worst eurythmy student. I had to stay many extra hours for bad behaviour.” Charles views his Waldorf Education as a significant component of his architectural work and the overall worldview that helps to inform his artistic and practical choices.

The first introduction Charles had to architecture was in a high school Main Lesson Block called “History through Architecture” at the Waldorf School of Garden City, which Charles attended Kindergarten through 12th grade. The interest sparked during this class hibernated in the back of Charles’ mind for a time and was reawakened at Princeton University during an Architectural Design Studio. Mr. Rose graduated from Princeton, Summa Cum Laude, with a B.A. in Architecture, then went on to study at Harvard University, Graduate School of Design, earning a Master of Architecture, Degree with Distinction, with a concentration in Landscape Architecture. He is a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects and a Certified Member of the U.S. Green Building Council, amongst other accreditations and affiliations.

When Charles Rose first came to see the Otto Specht School, invited by long-time Garden City classmate and friend, Jeanette Rodriguez, it was a casual visit to learn about the school and to literally get the lay of the land. Jeanette hoped there might be an intern or early career architect that he could recommend that Otto Specht could afford to hire to design a building to accommodate the growing needs of Otto Specht School, in terms of space.  As he toured the campus, however, he was taken by the remarkable work the school was doing. The program, he felt, was uniquely and compellingly, addressing many questions facing our society, and meeting the needs of a growing student population. “Wouldn’t it be great,” he thought, “if the school had a building that could support its mission. This was exactly the sort of project we were interested in getting behind.” Charles told Jeanette that he would be designing the building. Charles and his team spoke to teachers and administrators and worked to understand all facets of the culture and the mission of the school.

A building for Otto Specht School, he realized, should support the idea of bringing together disparate students, many of whom might often experience feeling “separate.” It should help to build, feel, and develop community, giving the school, spread throughout the expansive campus, one space, where the architecture can be an expression of the community. The goal would also be to have a net zero energy building, addressing from another angle, the needs of the future and stewardship of the environment. The building is designed with two curving wings, connected by a large, more communal, open, gathering space. For the younger students, there are smaller classrooms with quiet sensory/tutoring rooms attached; spaces that are “soft, embracing, and protective.” Classroom spaces for the older students would “connect out into the world with more transparency in the building, and outward, longer views.”

A school is not a building. The heart and soul, the character and content that make a school, are not defined or confined by the walls that surround it. But when the heart and soul of the school inform the design, and the content and character are supported by the structure, the school is made stronger and can look towards the future with hope and confidence.

Charles Rose, inspired  by the mission and importance of the Otto Specht School, has gifted the building design, and countless hours of work, to the school. He is excited by the possibilities the building can create for the future of Otto Specht School and the many students and families whose lives will be enriched by the school. Now, having this incredible gift from Charles Rose, we need the help of our entire Otto Specht School community; we need your spiritual and philanthropic support, to bring this beautiful building into reality for our many deserving students.

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