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By Ruben Cueto

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“Do not judge a book by its cover” is a phrase most people have heard before, meaning we should avoid making judgments based solely on superficial qualities like appearance. This is excellent advice but we are, after all, human and most humans make judgments based on what we see, whether it is fair or not. While we should never be so shallow when assessing people, it is another matter entirely when looking at works of art (visual aesthetics) where it is unavoidable. Architecture falls under the umbrella of the arts as well. In fact, some would consider architecture to be one of the most important art forms today since we interact with our environment daily and the aesthetic of our space impacts how we feel.

Everyone has felt the impact of their surroundings at one time or another. It is the difference between a nicely kept bedroom and one that is a disaster area or a neighborhood that is nicely maintained and another where no one cares about their yards. It is how one store can give the appearance of class and another may look rundown and shabby, even if they both sell the same things (We’re looking at you, Walmart!). It is true that these differences are just surface but the surface is a projection to the world of how we feel about ourselves. Since we experience the visual exterior first, it sets the tone for what we might expect to find on the inside. Visual aesthetics that do not inspire a feeling of confidence may create a feeling of doubt and an environment of doubt is never a good thing.

John Glenn High School has some very exciting things happening these days. Our test scores continue to improve, the Visual Arts demonstrates obvious student achievement as seen throughout our website, the award-winning Drama and Music classes continue their successes on a regional and state level, our wrestling and baseball teams bring honor to our campus, and so much more. Yet, even with such wonderful things developing here, our school has to fight its own reputation locally. Of course, it is understood that a reputation must be earned but sometimes reputations become tarnished because of superficial elements. Sometimes, how we appear is oftentimes how we are judged and to deny that happens is to deny reality.

John Glenn High School was built in the 1960s and has retained its basic look for the past 50 years plus. While it has remained functional for the most part and as been modernized somewhat, its appearance has never been seriously considered. As a result, the wear of the school becomes more apparent year after year. Now, there is nothing wrong with aging as we all (hopefully!) go through it but an obligation exists both to the outside world and to ourselves to maintain and improve upon our best self in all aspects, and that is to the benefit of everyone.

Aesthetically, public schools are the product of a "design by committee" approach without an overall unifying vision. This design approach is not isolated just to JGHS as most government buildings share a drab look. The first thing people see as they approach our school on Shoemaker Ave. is our ugly parking lot and chain link fence that implants the prison-like look into the viewer’s mind. The landscaping leaves a lot to be desired throughout the campus as trees are continually removed and grassy areas neglected to death. The buildings on our campus are painted in the same “Soledad Prison” gray you see in most government facilities.

Visual opportunities like our distinctive library are not celebrated and the exterior gates add nothing to the look of the school.

All works of art begin with an idea so here is some visual food for thought. Presented for your consideration is a vision of what John Glenn High School could be. These ideas demonstrate Photoshop in action as colors are reconsidered and landscaping applied in a thoughtful manner. No major architectural overhauls are presented (well, maybe one big one), as this vision is based on realistic resources.

The color scheme is a refined version of our school's colors of red, white, and blue but are more subdued and in keeping with the Space Age era when our school opened. The Soledad gray is replaced with a more pleasing neutral color and a red trim throughout serves to unify the campus.

The parking lot entrance is redesigned with a nice low profile sign and added landscaping to soften the hard, cold parking lot. A nicer fence creates a more inviting outdoor space.

The Library is the most distinct building on the campus but the current color scheme makes it far too understated. The interesting design fails to stand out. A muted application of the school colors makes the interesting architectural elements come forward.

The main gate where the bus riders enter the school is redone with ornate black iron to create a more majestic entrance.

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The principal north-south walkway which bisects a majority of the school grounds gets an understated brick trim on both sides, drawing the eye to create a grand thoroughfare for our students.

We tell our students to dream big so here is an oversized dream to share. On the corner of Telegraph Road and Painter Ave. in nearby Santa Fe Springs sits an abandoned bowling alley sign. The building itself was demolished years ago with only its retro sign remaining. Inquiries were made about the status of the sign. The Los Angeles Conservancy is attempting to save the sign from demolition as it was created by the same world-renown sign designer that created many of the old KFC bucket signs, the Felix the Cat auto dealership sign in downtown LA and the iconic hotel entrance to the old Flamingo Hotel on the Las Vegas Strip. In this dream sequence, the sign has been transplanted to our campus with the school initials proudly replacing the word “Bowl”. The level of coolness this would have added to our campus is off the charts!

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This re-imagined vision of John Glenn High School is just a glorified art project but perhaps it can serve to start conversations among our stakeholders who can actually address the issue. Now, no one should be naive enough to think that some buckets of paint and nicer landscaping is going to make our students understand Shakespeare better or memorize the Periodic Table but do not be too quick to dismiss the emotional impact of aesthetics. How a person feels impacts their performance and if your environment (your home, your workplace, your school) is a pleasing place to be then it stands to reason that you will feel better about being there. All this may or may not translate to higher test scores and higher student attendance but not all good things are necessarily measurable and maybe that, in the end, is what Art is all about.

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13520 Shoemaker Ave.
Norwalk CA 90650
562 • 210-3000