The Henry Ford Academy: School for Creative Studies (HFA) is a sixth-to-twelfth-grade public charter school in Detroit. In a corner of the 760,000-square-foot building that it shares with Detroit’s College for Creative Studies (CCS), HFA was designed to foster innovation and creativity in its student body with its physical layout, which is more like a design practice than a secondary school. The Henry Ford Academy is a school dedicated to design-based learning that lives in the building where GM’s legendary Harley Earl became the father of the modern car.
The 120,000-square-foot space occupies portions of four levels in an eleven-story building. Administrative offices and a large gym are on the first floor, and the upper levels hold classrooms. Creating a high level of student engagement was a goal of CCS’s president, Richard Rogers, when he undertook the restoration of this historic building in Detroit’s New Center district.
Originally called the Argonaut, the Art Deco structure was designed by Albert Kahn in 1928 for General Motors, and it housed the first design department in the history of the auto industry. The building takes up an entire city block, and when GM relocated its headquarters more than a decade ago to the Renaissance Center on the waterfront, the building became one of the growing number of vacant sites in downtown Detroit.
Rechristened the A. Alfred Taubman Center for Design Education, the building, which was donated to the school by GM, now serves as a second campus for the college, just a few miles from its first. It is home to CCS’s five undergraduate design departments and its new M.F.A. degree programs in design and transportation design. The restored building contains classrooms and faculty offices for the college as well as loft-style residence halls for up to 300 students. It will have retail and offices, both aimed at reinvigorating the street. Eighty thousand square feet have been set aside for future development, including incubator space for start-up design companies.
HFA is a public school to introduce the city’s predominantly African-American community to career paths in art and design. So CCS partnered with the nonprofit Henry Ford Learning Institute and the Thompson Education Foundation to bring HFA into the Taubman Center. The academy’s curriculum—developed with CCS, the institute, and partners like IDEO and Stanford’s d.school—uses problem-based design challenges to invigorate the classroom experience and prepare students to be critical thinkers and creative professionals.
This model, which is also being replicated in schools in Chicago and San Antonio, is aimed at reversing dropout rates and turning urban public schools into centers of innovation.
The idea of putting a public school in a public space began in 1997, when an experimental school called the Henry Ford Academy opened in Dearborn, Michigan. The Ford Motor Company and the Henry Ford Museum teamed up with nonprofits and businesses to develop a school at the museum to prepare students for college and professional life.
Click on the heading above to learn more about the Henry Ford Academy.