Located in the bluesy capital of the Mississippi Delta, Clarksdale Community College educates students from kindergarten through sixth grade. The project connects the existing building with the new building. Completed in 2021 by New Orleans-based architecture firm OJT, the project focuses on the US South and emphasizes collaborative research and development as part of the design process. Charter School's approach is no different: the company gathered data and carefully considered the architectural, historical and contextual contexts of the design.
The new campus, located in the residential area of Clarksdale, is a historic 12-acre church that was relocated by the community due to declining membership. The heavy investment of Clarksdale, a predominantly black town of 15,000, left a legacy as a Mississippi cultural center where its residents lacked the structural support needed to thrive in a tourism economy. The school aims to be a step in the direction of reversing rising poverty and expanding free land by providing free college for children in Clarksdale and surrounding counties.
To combine Clarksdale's history with a vibrant vision for its future, OJT created a campus that honors the existing preserve and its surrounding context, providing vibrant and exciting spaces for student learning. The form is equal parts classroom number and programming puzzle; The addition integrates the church's plan to increase space and distribute the school's functional needs across campus. The plan includes classrooms at all levels, an auditorium, a library, classrooms, a cafeteria and a gymnasium.
At the center of the courtyard is an outer courtyard surrounded by an outer surface characterized by colonnades that reflect the existing pillars of the church. While classrooms are separated by classrooms, spaces such as the courtyard and the ancient sanctuary (slightly converted into an auditorium) allow interaction between older and younger students and foster collaboration between the classrooms and the campus.
The project takes into account the height of the existing church. OJT founder and chief architect Jonathan Tate shared the inspiration for this strategy: “It was a church and we were trying to transform it into a school. Our question is, how do you both take the character and quality of the form, we were all friends, but do you somehow remake it, reinvent it? »
The roof line facing the street is traditional, though long, the trough resembles the top of a temple. When the roof comes down, you can see the warm brickwork and stained glass behind. While the roofline pays homage to the church within the site, the facade pays homage to the surrounding context. In contrast to the whitewashed commercial materials, the new facade rearranges the entrance to the school and integrates it with the sidewalk, which looks like a balcony above the track. Spots of color, recessed reliefs and narrow windows break up the outside world and keep the home in balance with the surrounding context.
While preparing for college can seem daunting for preschoolers, the school prioritizes happiness, and the school's final design reflects its mission to bring joy to the learning process. A special focus was on the library, central to Charter's commitment to literacy. It occupies one of the most prominent locations on campus and is easily accessible to all levels. Vaulted ceilings and lots of windows create a bright, playful space with kid-friendly shelving and furniture. It is one of the few educational institutions that faces a tree-lined residential street, which shows the importance of the school's reading efforts in dealing with the outside world.
Much of the design and construction of the school took place during the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, which required new ways of collaborating, learning and creating. Despite the uncertainty of the timing, the success of the campus is clear as it works to increase the number of classrooms from K-2 starting in 2018 to K-6 by 2022.
Enrollment has doubled, and a branch will soon be established to offer tuition to Year 7 and Year 8 students.
Jonathan Tate explained that while schools can be stuck in one classroom until students fill the hallways between classrooms, Clarksdale Public Charter School always feels alive and bustling. Here, amid indoor and outdoor spaces, collaborative and individual learning, and buildings of historic and future value, students are prepared for future success.
Alana Griffin is a regular member of AN .