Design System for High School Interiors

Oct 2021

In fall 2021, Success Academies opened its second high school, SA High School of the Liberal Arts – Harlem (HSLA-HA). This was no small task, but it was one I was excited to drive as it was the third installment of our school designs (elementary and middle school designs came from Biber architects and Pentagram). I created a system that allows for a space to facilitate inquiry. When scholars pass through halls that bait them with questions, topics, and concepts, it is likely that new ideas and intersections of understanding will begin to form in their minds.

Intersections of Understanding


The plus sign represents the intersection of two related or unrelated ideas. The hope is to create a new way of thinking by crashing these concepts together. This design also symbolizes “more,” standing for the never-ending pursuit of knowledge.


The plus sign can act as a gridded element that will help teachers to hang student work in hallways and display cases in an orderly fashion. One challenge of this project was to find a way to make it easier for teachers to set up walls and maintain spaces with minimal effort on their part, allowing them to focus on instruction.

Posters that Promote Inquiry

The high school curriculum is filled with "big ideas." These are large concepts that break down into smaller subject matters. Like a family tree, a big idea starts macro and descends into the micro where it will eventually travel upward to another, potentially unrelated "big idea."

Identifying where multiple big ideas connect helps facilitate subject mastery and the likelihood that a new discovery can emerge from this process.

Inquiry posters appear on digital screens in the hallways of both high schools. They are central to the facilitating inquiry in a passive way because they become a repetitive part of the scholars' daily environment.

Displaying Scholar Work
and Concept Tiles

The plus pattern can help teachers hang printed work and align items in display case windows that have been lined with the plus pattern or they can hang them on supplied boards that insert into the display rails that line the hallways.

Concept tiles can mount to most walls and hanging them neatly is quick and easy because the corners of each tile help align neighboring tiles.

Displaying Scholar Work & Concept Tiles

Poster Templates for
Digital Message Boards

Digital message boards with a template library help promote school and scholar life, events, and announcements.

The Scholars' Next Horizon

From their first day in kindergarten, scholars are told that they will be going to college. This is why the graduation year for each grade is set to the year they will graduate college (assuming they will graduate in four years).

Filling the wall space with college names is another way to keep scholars focused on the main goal of college graduation.

Classroom Door Entrances

Door panels establish the entrance of each classroom, office, or utility room. This offers a pop of color throughout the hallways.


Many SA schools are co-located with other schools in the same building, so branded signage is often needed to distinguish between the schools.

Placemaking with Faces
of the Curriculum

A mural depicting the faces of aspirational figures within our K–12 curriculum adorns a common area where scholars can socialize and collaborate on school work.

Alternate Mural Concept
Neural "Spaghetti"

This idea never made it past the ideation phase but I knew this to be an exciting and stimulating concept that could inspire the imaginations of those traversing the hallways each day.

Early tests. I would have hired a sign painter to execute the final design.


Design Direction: Christina Rodriguez
Production Design: Stephen Carlson
Architect: Altair Peterson

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