Since opening for the 2018-19 school year, Pelham Park Middle School has taken home the hardware, including the Merit Award at AIA Birmingham’s 2019 Magic City Design Awards, Alabama Concrete Industries Association Top Block Award and Alabama School Library Association’s Library of the Year. Magic City Design Awards jurors praised the design, citing “an open light filled quality to the space that seems both respectful of the civil nature of the school program, but that also creates playful space appropriate for a middle school.”
Designed for 800 students, grades 6-8, Pelham Park Middle resembles a park-like setting with natural materials, honest forms and modern touches. The school consists of two stories of classrooms followed by a connector that separates the two courtyards and connects the school to the cafeteria and gym. The main feature of the building is its atrium, featuring a unique structural system that adds to the purity of the design and creates another layer of visual interest to the space. At night, the atrium becomes a focal point, with its internal light illuminating the space from all sides as well as lighting up the unique structure.
The building contributes to the educational aspect of the school by incorporating a series of educational graphics that are inset into the polished concrete floor and closely located to their corresponding subjects. Careful attention was paid to the curriculum model to ensure the information was relevant, with visuals such as the solar system, a compass, musical scales and a world map, that students and teachers can interact with on a daily basis.
The exterior greenspace is marked by two secure courtyards separated by a light-filled connector which links the classrooms to the cafeteria and gym. In keeping with its connection to the outdoors, the connector’s structural outriggers direct water to concrete catch-basins, creating a series of waterfalls which empty into a landscaped bio-swale.
Throughout the building, traditional elements and materials were pushed to perform in both an innovative and modern way. In many cases, brick appears to be suspended above corners of glass, while other parts of the façade begin to test textures and organizational patterns within the brick. The natural elements incorporated into the school worked their way into the furniture and other interior elements. For instance, the media center features a concrete desk that emerges from the floor and contributes to the overall experience of strolling through a park.
GMC served as the architect, landscape architect and civil engineer for the new middle school.