Design Award Entries

Little Rock Southwest High School

Created by the merger of two high schools in a large urban district, this new facility both physically and figuratively blends the history, legacy, people, and spirit of former rivals into a modern campus for more than 2,250 students.

Project Statement

Located equidistant from the two campuses that this new facility replaces, Little Rock Southwest High School must at once merge past traditions while also forging its own new identity for students in the 21st century. Planned for 2,250 students, the three-level facility incorporates more than 65 modern classrooms, advanced science laboratories, a robotics lab, art rooms, dance studios, tiered collaboration classrooms, a large media center, a multi-level cafeteria for 850 students, and a 1,200-seat auditorium, among other amenities. The campus includes a 2,400-seat basketball arena, a football/soccer stadium for 4,000 spectators, a Track & Field complex for 500, Baseball and Softball stadiums, and a tennis complex.

The 55-acre site was intentionally arranged to create distinct zones between public/private and academic/athletic. The academic wing running east-west isolates public/visitor access on the north to the school, stadium, and arena, from the private/student zones on the south. The cafeteria, art and auditorium form that runs north-south engages the academic building with the athletic facilities to the east. The stadium is intentionally enclosed by the mass of the arena on the north, academic building on the west, and the field house on the south to create a sense of enclosure and to maximize fan noise and the game-day experience.

Evoking historic schools in the district, the building is clad in a traditional brick material, and then strategically articulated and delaminated to expose the modern, transparent ribbon of glass and school-branded colored panels that hint at the 21st century educational process within. This glass & metal ribbon, beginning at ground-level on the south side of the classroom wing, wraps around the entire perimeter of the academic building, defining the tiered collaborative classrooms, forming the covered portico over the main entry, and ultimately transitioning to a complete ribbon of cantilevered glass that serves as the press box overlooking the football stadium.

The pedagogy for the high school is designed as an academy structure of focused college and career readiness pathways. Within each pathway, interdisciplinary teaching methods are used to increase student exposure to various fundamentals. The architectural response to this concept is to put learning on display within atriums that vertically bisect the academic building. These atriums provide visual and physical connection between floors, facilitate collaboration between faculty and students, extend natural light down into the core of the building, and are lined with glass-enclosed classrooms that showcase student work and active learning to students who may otherwise not be exposed to certain subjects.

An additional goal of the district was that the school should not only function as a safe place to education children, but also be a resource for the neighborhood. To this end, the school campus includes after-hours access to community-use soccer fields, walking trails, and the auditorium with its own dedicated entrance and parking for public events. Integration of the community fabric into the design and use of the facility fosters pride not only for the school and its immediate neighborhood, but for the entire city.

AIA Arkansas