Nice Shades On New York's Learning Spring School

learning spring school photo

Image credit Lloyd Alter

I love cycling in New York; instead of popping up like a mole at a subway station, you see new things every time and everywhere. Cycling in the rain from the Element to Counter for a dinner with my TreeHugger coworkers in New York, I passed an interesting building at 2nd and 20th Street, with a sign that said Learning Spring School.

I immediately thought to myself, "Nice shades!"

flatiron building new york photo

Nice shades used to be de rigueur on the best buildings in New York; here you see them on every window in the Flatiron Building and on every store. Air conditioning hadn't been invented, so people had to stop the heat of the sun before it got in. In Awnings: Time to Bring Them Back, I quoted Emily Lloyd of Columbia University:

Canvas awnings enjoyed widespread use in the days before air conditioning. They were found on many residential buildings on the east, west, and south facades to shade the apartments from the sun. The armature was almost always retractable. The material was canvas, available in many colors, and frequently striped. Only a few buildings have any surviving awnings. Others have traces of awning hardware still visible.

Once air conditioning was invented and when electricity was cheap, and we didn't worry about greenhouse gases, we just paid to move the heat from inside to out, who cared? Why have awnings when we have air conditioning?

air conditioned nightmare

But as William Saletan wrote in his terrific Slate article on The Deluded World of Air Conditioning,

Air conditioning takes indoor heat and pushes it outdoors. To do this, it uses energy, which increases production of greenhouse gases, which warm the atmosphere. From a cooling standpoint, the first transaction is a wash, and the second is a loss. We're cooking our planet to refrigerate the diminishing part that's still habitable.

learning spring school detail

Image credit PBD Architects

Architects Platt Byard Dovell White clearly get this. They put permanent awnings on the Learning Spring School, on top of a lovely terra cotta base. (See also Axis Fa├žades here)


There are lots of ways to keep out the sun, from special glass to smaller windows. But everyone loves nice shades. These were beautifully detailed, and show how doing the right green thing can make a building look so much better. Green design doesn't have to be boring; it can add texture and depth and detail.


Cycling in the rain is never fun, especially after fighting my way down the so-called bike lane on Broadway where one is safer cycling with the cars, at least they are more predictable than the people walking in and out of the bike lane without looking. But had I not done it, I would not have discovered this gem. So many schools cheap out on the architecture, but Learning Spring, a school for high-level autistic children, did it right.

I think this is pretty new; the architects still have it in their "on the boards" section. But watch the architectural awards over the next year or so; this will be winning a lot of them.

More New Tricks From Old Buildings:
Forget About Green Gizmos: Buildings Need To Be Healthy and Durable Too
Big Steps In Building: Make Natural Ventilation Mandatory
Keep Cool with Awnings
Tune Your Windows; They are not just holes in the walls.
12 Big Steps to Make Building Better

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