The Anatomy of Blind Brook
I used to feel like the building could breathe. I would think that as I looked at it, walking from the upper parking lot to the glass front doors after my dad would drop me off at 7:30 in the morning in his VW Bug on his way to the train station. I was sure that I could see the building taking in air and letting it out, like a living thing, like a big, observing lion on a hill.
Emmy-winning writer, Janet Iacobuzio, BBHS Class of 1980
The best framework I can think of, in writing about and describing the first decade of Blind Brook Jr./Sr. High School is a combination of the anatomical and the romantic/spiritual. That is: a body (the building), a head/brain (David Schein), a heart (George Trautwein), and a Soul (the students and staff). In relating the complete story of the unique endeavor Blind Brook was during that first decade, each of those components needs attention, analysis, and explanation. Janet Iacobuzio’s memory of that building all these years later --- that it was “a living thing” --- reinforces my belief in the need for a thorough autopsy of that first decade. So, let’s wash up, put on those gloves, and get to work!
At some point during the school year, in those early years, I would march my classes outdoors (weather permitting) to not only look at our building but to “experience” the space, the openness, the light and the sound or silence. To my mind, the building invited, indeed, required explanation and analysis because it was so unique. It did not, upon first view from the outside say “school” --- and certainly not once you were inside, either. I believed our students needed to consciously experience the SPACE they lived in (and probably took for granted) each day. Sadly, very little trace of the original building remains today therefore it's important to memorialize what the first Blind Brook Jr./Sr. High School was, physically, as that built environment embodied much of the school’s progressive approach to education.
“A Building Landed on Our Building”
If you were to visit 840 King Street in Rye Brook, New York, today you would drive up a lovely tree-lined incline and see, up to your right, Blind Brook Jr./Sr. High School. The present incarnation of the building bears no resemblance to the original structure that housed the first decade of the school’s existence. There is barely a trace of the building we lived in from 1973 to 1983 --- so much so, Joe Levy (Class of ’82 & former Executive Editor of Rolling Stone Magazine and The Village Voice) commented, “A building landed on our building.” Indeed, that’s what it looks and feels like. The current incarnation of the school reminds me of a piece of New York City history. From 1842 to the 1890’s the Croton Distributing Reservoir sat on Fifth Avenue at 42nd Street. If one is familiar with New York City today, you know that the New York Public Library sits at that address (and has since 1911). However, if you tour the library, you can see stones that are a vestige of the original structure that stood there. In the same way, if you tour the current iteration of BB Jr./Sr. HS you can also see a vestige of the original red-brick structure that was consumed by the new building. Today’s school architecture very much coincides with what would be considered traditional secondary school architecture (and all that implies).
Here’s what Wikipedia says about Blind Brook’s history:
The original building was considered modern as it contained "open classrooms". This setup contained classrooms that had movable walls and/or bookcases separating them. This made for an interesting and different learning environment since students walking in hallways would also be walking behind classes. The building was designed this way as the district chose to focus around a humanities curriculum that included interdisciplinary studies. Its faculty, a blending of teachers already working on the K-9 Ridge Street staff with new hires committed to the open-space educational concept, began an educational adventure that lasted in spirit for over 20 years. Wikipedia (Bold, mine)
It wasn’t just the “open classrooms” that distinguished the new school, though. What Wikipedia fails to document is all the other essential components of the building that contributed to the development of a unique school culture during the first decade. If you happened to be in my class during that time, here’s what you would have learned during “the Tour.”
Form Follows Function
Starting exactly where Janet Iacobuzio left us, “walking from the upper parking lot to the glass front doors,” here’s what you would encounter.
Standing before the building you would first notice that unlike most traditional high schools of that era --- which resembled factories or warehouses with Greek columns at the entrance --- Blind Brook resembled a fortress or citadel, with dark red brick and lots of glass. Leading up to those glass doors was a long walkway of dark gray stones --- a drawbridge spanning the moat between “the world” and our school. As noted earlier, you drive up an incline to reach the school, so it was, indeed, set upon a hill --- like the metaphor used to describe the founding of the American Republic as a “beacon of hope.” Grandiose, perhaps, but not inaccurate. Once you reached those front glass doors, you entered a New World, unlike any school you’d ever been in before.
After passing through a set of double glass doors you moved into a foyer bathed in light by the two-story glass windows surrounding the front doors. To your left was a suspended stairway, to your right, a sunken staircase, and directly in front of you a two-story wall of glass with a Commons area ahead and a second-floor walkway (bordered by the glass) suspended above. A double door to your left led into the Commons, with yet more glass walls to your left, looking into the Instructional Media Center (IMC). Entering the Commons was a stunning experience. Picture this: a vast carpeted open area, almost three stories high with angled skylights above, immersing the space in glorious light on sunny days. There was another suspended staircase essentially “hanging” in the Commons, with open slats you could see through --- and your unobstructed view directly ahead revealed a short, recessed stairway to the cafeteria, whose back wall was, of course, windows! In other words, there was a wondrous sense of space, light, openness and, yes, freedom, that the space, the building conveyed as soon as you entered. As you looked up in front of you (and you couldn’t help it --- those skylights drew your eyes up, just as a medieval cathedral’s architecture does) you saw yet another glass wall with a “hallway” that passed before some of the only enclosed areas of the building (the Main Office, Faculty Room, Business Classroom). And up to your right --- more glass walls --- that looked into the Science Labs on the second floor. Up to the left was the second floor’s suspended walkway/”hallway” (with lockers tucked away, off the walk) --- where students could congregate and look into those same Labs. Light, space, openness and, freedom --- and that was just upon entering the building!