Perspectives in Architecture: Commitment to education renews historic building

Photos courtesy Creative Sources Photography / Rion Rizzo

Vibrant portraits of Edmund Asa Ware, Bishop Frederick Douglas Jordan, and Dr. Ruth Hall Hodges adorn the entry to the new YMCA Leadership and Learning Center. This site for the headquarters for the YMCA of Metro Atlanta in the Historic Westside once served as the location for the Edmund Asa Ware Elementary School, the first elementary school for African Americans in Atlanta.

The building was later acquired by Morris Brown College, and renamed Jordan Hall in recognition of Bishop Frederick Douglas Jordan, a champion for the college and other African American institutions of higher education. Dr Hall Hodges, an accomplished artist and Morris Brown College professor, established an acclaimed art gallery in the basement of the Jordan Hall.

These educators championed quality education for all regardless of background, a philosophy shared by the YMCA of Metro Atlanta and reinforced in the design of its headquarters by Collins Cooper Carusi Architects. When the renovation of Jordan Hall proved to be cost prohibitive, the architects and consultants incorporated part of the historic building and stunning new signage at the recently opened, state-of-the-art learning center stimulating dynamic, educational experiences for adults and children inside and outside the building.

In the building wing designed for YMCA staff, flexible spaces with an abundance of natural sunlight encourage employee collaboration, promote professional development, and offer rooms for community meetings. A delightful common area accented with colorful teaching tools on the walls centers the other building wing. Four spacious classrooms adjacent to this common area provide easy access to two “messy” rooms where children can sharpen their artistic skills. The YMCA Leadership and Learning Center cradles an ingenious Outdoor Exploration Center designed by Cynthia Gentry of Play Atlanta. Comprised of finely crafted playhouses, a series of trellises, and sand pits, this play area inspires curiosity, educational play, and an appreciation for nature.

A pathway stamped with leaf motifs connects the Outdoor Exploration Center to an outdoor classroom and stage, a structure comprised of a portion of the exterior walls from the former gym at Jordan Hall. While the former school is no longer in operation, Collins Cooper Carusi architect Don Whitten shares his excitement for the incoming students at the YMCA Leadership and Learning Center saying, “the YMCA’s new headquarters brings a renewed energy and continues the commitment to education for this community.” Although ownership has changed over the years, the commitment for quality education remains firmly rooted in this historic site.

Listen to the INtown INsider podcast for more about this story. 

 

Melody L. Harclerode, FAIA promotes significant natural, historical, and cultural sites as a non-profit leader, architect, and writer.

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