Thomas Lawrence on Historic Sensitivity

By:  Thomas Lawrence

I harbor a special interest in concrete buildings, so I was excited to get the opportunity to design a renovation for the historic Sunshine School in San Francisco, now home to Hilltop High School and the San Francisco Family Service Agency.  Completed in 1937, the WPA school was designed for children with health ailments, including polio.

The school originally housed eighteen classrooms, offices for nurses, a spacious courtyard, and a therapeutic bathing pool.   The building had many unique historic features that we wanted to keep or pay homage to while providing for the building's current mixed uses, which include the continuation high school for pregnant teens, an infant / toddler child development center, and a social service agency.


We took advantage of restoration opportunities throughout the building.  For instance, the building's original light fixtures in the lobby and dining room were restored and reinstalled.  A 1950's era elevator addition to the courtyard was removed, and a new elevator was installed in a more central location off of the original lobby entrance.  

Skylights in the second story wings that originally served as napping dormitories were replaced with new translucent insulated panels to reduce the temperature swings from solar heat gain and loss, while maintaining the original natural daylighting.  

The site's mosaic-tiled hydrotherapy pool was saved and reconfigured as part of the school's kitchen and serving line.


When we found worn out finishes that could not be restored, we designed reinterpretations to honor the idea from the past.  For instance, modern versions of various tile patterns were used in the restrooms, for signage and for gates.  Accent colors were derived form the original stenciled concrete beams.  New light fixtures give a nod to the site's past, and exterior concrete signage compliments the building's original embossed concrete signage.