Colorado’s Mid-century Modern Schools

Date: 8/1/2017
Principal Researchers:
  • Kat Vlahos
  • Abbey Christman
  • Angela Smelker

In 2014, the Center of Preservation Research (CoPR) received a State Historical Fund grant to work on Colorado’s Mid-century Modern Schools, project to raise awareness of the historical and architectural significance of mid-century schools, those built between 1946 and 1970. The project was inspired by the results of the Historic Schools Survey conducted in 2010 by Colorado Preservation, Inc. (CPI). The CPI project revealed that mid-century schools were the most endangered of Colorado’s historic education resources.

More than 30% of Colorado’s public school buildings were constructed between 1946 and 1970 which was a time of significant social, cultural, demographic, and economic transformation in Colorado. Mid-century school buildings were built at an unprecedented rate throughout Colorado, in urban, rural, and suburban areas. These schools reflect the local trends of the mid-century period, including population growth, suburban development, and community planning. They demonstrate the evolution and popularization of the Modern architectural movement as well as the development of new construction methods and materials. Their design is often characterized by a horizontal emphasis, a lack of ornamentation, a flat roof, and long ribbon windows. Though the aesthetics of midcentury schools may be underappreciated today, they were celebrated at the time. Mid-century educators believed that beautiful schools were essential to student development: “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).

The goal of Colorado’s Mid-century Modern Schools is to provide tools that educators, architects, administrators, and communities can use to: raise consciousness and appreciation of the historical and architectural significance of mid-century schools; encourage school districts to consider rehabilitation of mid-century schools rather than replacement; determine if a mid-century school is eligible for designation; and list additional mid-century schools in the National Register of Historic Places. The project includes an inventory of all mid-century school building in the state, a Multiple Property Documentation Form, three National Register Nominations, a Nomination Guide, and a digital publication geared towards general audiences to serve as a visual guide to midcentury architecture and the trends that shaped their design.

Sharing the information we have gathered and the tools we have developed is essential to the success of our project.  Upon completion of the in the Fall of 2017, materials from this project will be available on our website for download. Stay tuned!

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