Design of Crosstown High wins national award

One of 4 projects to receive American Institute of Architects honor

By Updated: April 13, 2019 12:47 AM CT | Published: April 12, 2019 2:11 PM CT

The design for the new Crosstown High School by ANF Architects is one of four projects to receive the highest award given by the American Institute of Architects, the AIA announced Friday, April 12.

The innovative school occupies 67,000 square feet of Crosstown Concourse, which is becoming a national showcase for architecture.

Less than two years after the grand opening, architecture associated with the adaptive reuse of the former Sears warehouse and retail store now has received at least four national or international design awards.

“We’re thrilled,” ANF Architects’ Amanda Whitaker said of her firm receiving an Award of Design Excellence in AIA’s  2019 Education Facility Design Awards. She was the project architect.

Crosstown High will eventually have 500 students. It started last year with the ninth grade and its 125 students. The school occupies parts of the first, fourth and fifth floors of the giant building’s east tower.

Crosstown High was created to be basically a learning lab with emphasis on mentoring and exposure to the many other tenants in the 1.2 million-square-foot Crosstown Concourse, dubbed “an urban vertical village.” The mentors there include medical professionals, artists, scientists, educators and community leaders and partners.

While the school’s in-building neighbors are a substantial resource, the old warehouse presented challenges for designing a high school.

“Integrating a high school into an old Sears distribution center was definitely a challenge,” Whitaker said. “… It has a very tight structure with a grid of huge, oversize columns, low, 10-foot floor-to-floor ceiling heights, and it was dark and void of light.”

One of ANF Architects’ biggest ideas for overcoming the challenges was to create eight, student “base camps,” Whitaker said.

Instead of traditional homerooms, the firm created base camps that each focus on an area of interest, such as art or theater. Each base camp comprises a central room that can be isolated by closing roll-down, garage-style doors or opened up to rooms flanking both sides.

“The base camps were all identified with unique, vibrant colors which give that sort of crazy pop of color throughout the space and energizes the space,” Whitaker said.

The architects took advantage of the sunlight flooding through the East Atrium’s skylights, which illuminates the school from the middle. “We used borrowed light from the East Atrium to light the more interior rooms and were able to borrow light from the exterior and send it into the middle by use of lots of glass,” Whitaker said.

ANF Architect’s Rebecca Conrad was the principal in charge of the project.

Crosstown Concourse could host regularly scheduled architectural tours.

Earlier this year, the building’s renovation, led by Looney Ricks Kiss, was one of nine buildings receiving the AIA 2019 Honor Awards.

Last year, the National Trust for Historic Preservation honored Crosstown Concourse as one of the top three historic preservation projects. Also last year, the Congress for the New Urbanism awarded Crosstown Concourse the 2018 grand prize for urban planning.


Crosstown Concourse Crosstown High School Architecture ANF Architects American Institute of Architects
Tom Bailey

Tom Bailey

Tom Bailey covers business news for The Daily Memphian. A Tupelo, Mississippi, native, he graduated from Mississippi State University. He's worked in journalism for 40 years and has lived in Midtown for 36 years.

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