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Foote's Progressive Architect

As modern as the buildings they design is the partnership of Mr. and Mrs. Carleton Granbery.” So begins a New Haven Register article, published in 1947, about the architect who would go on to design the Foote School campus on Loomis Place.

Carleton Granbery, who, along with the Chicago firm  Perkins+Will, designed Foote’s award-winning architecture in the mid-1950s, wasn’t only a progressive architect. He was something of a trailblazer in his views on gender equality.

His wife, Diana Allyn Granbery, was an accomplished architect in her own right, having attended Harvard’s Graduate School of Design while her husband served in the Pacific during World War II. Afterward, she joined her husband’s firm.

“My father very much wanted her equal in the business and that wasn’t too popular in those days,” says the Granberys’ eldest daughter, Joya. “When they got awards from the American Institute of Architects, my father would sometimes get up on stage and say, ‘Actually my wife designed this building’ and hand the award to her.”

E. Carleton Granbery was born in Brooklyn Heights in 1913. After earning degrees in architecture from Yale, he worked at a New York firm on designs for the General Motors Futurama and the Swiss Pavilion at the 1939 World’s Fair, as well as Yale’s Silliman College and the Yale University Art Gallery. During World War II, he served as lieutenant commander in the U.S. Navy Civil Engineer Corps in command of Seabees. In 1945, he started a firm in New Haven with his wife and another architect couple, Mr. and Mrs. Robert T. Coolidge.

The postwar period was an exciting time to be an architect in New Haven, as Yale and city hall embarked on ambitious projects that would redefine the city’s landscape. A number of Yale-trained architects, including Carleton Granbery, put their talents to work in New Haven, establishing the city as a laboratory for modernist architecture. Among the Granberys’ contributions are the Yale University Press building, the Crown Street parking garage, the Swiss-inspired pavilion at Edgewood Park and numerous public-housing complexes.

Carleton Granbery incorporated the modern aesthetic into the design of Foote, creating “California-style” buildings with angular rooflines and floor-to-ceiling windows that looked out onto wooded grounds. (The Granberys preferred the term “contemporary,” as they felt “modern” conveyed “an imaginary picture of angles and cubes.”)

He designed the new Foote School campus to reflect and support the school’s child-centered pedagogy. He made the classroom buildings detached so students would get outside frequently, a practice that has since been shown by numerous studies to improve a child’s ability to focus.

“He thought that kids needed fresh air between classes, so it was quite intentional that they had to go outside,” says Joya Granbery.

Another innovation was Foote’s color scheme. The Granberys had researched colors extensively while designing a psychiatric hospital in the Hudson Valley. The hospital, and most schools of that era, was painted with pale greens and blues—calming colors meant to keep people’s energy in check, says Joya. The Granberys instead painted Foote’s classrooms in bright yellows and oranges.

“Their theory was that kids would be more creative and inspired and learn better with stimulating colors,” Joya says. “With the Foote project, they were really encouraged to use their creativity and think outside the box.”

That creativity was recognized with numerous awards, including the 1965 Merit Award from the Connecticut chapter of the American Institute of Architects. Carleton Granbery died in 1998 at the age of 85, followed by Diana’s passing in 2000. They were part of an extraordinary period in American architecture and created a permanent home for The Foote School that would inspire and support students for generations to come.

Since 1916, The Foote School has provided child-centered education that nurtures creativity, excellence and joy in learning.

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