Expansively spreading across the rise of a hill, the crescent-shaped Charles R. Drew Charter School for Junior and Senior Academies proudly embraces its pastoral campus near downtown Atlanta. “Curving the building was obvious, with this setting,” says Manuel Cadrecha, design principal of Perkins+Will (P+W), the architects. The 39-acre site, where groves of loblolly pines and bald cypress dot the landscape, is located near the Villages of East Lake, a mixed-income rental community, and the early-20th-century East Lake Golf Club, as well as the nine-hole Charlie Yates Golf Course.

The confluence of educational, housing, and golf facilities for a diverse population provides an interesting example of private and public communal revitalization. In the postwar decades, affluent homeowners began to desert the East Lake neighborhood (and the golf club), quickened by the construction in the 1970s of a nearby housing project stigmatized for its drug traffic. In the 1990s, Thomas G. Cousins, one of the city's leading developers, stepped in. Often said to have inspired Tom Wolfe's take-charge protagonist in his 1998 Atlanta saga, A Man in Full, Cousins turned the golf club into a corporate-member philanthropic enterprise. Then he worked with the community to create the mixed-income village that would replace the crime-ridden public housing project. In 2000, Cousins's East Lake Foundation helped create the first Charles R. Drew Charter School, for pre-K-8 (now pre-K-5), designed by Smallwood, Reynolds, Stewart, Stewart.

In August 2014, the foundation followed with the bracingly bold structure by P+W for grades 6 through 12'junior- and senior-level college-prep academies'just up the hill from the elementary school. The optimism of the mission to educate an underserved demographic can be seen in the architectural treatment: the upper school's narrow 83-foot-wide classroom building accommodates classrooms, labs, studios, and offices in its 577-foot-long arcing form. Canted pencil-shaped steel columns with tapered cones increase in height toward the east end where the roof gently lifts upward. Ample amounts of ochre-tinged Tennessee fieldstone define the monumental entrance portal and end walls of the concrete-frame structure.

The concave facade faces south and west, where a glass curtain wall is sheltered from the sun by a deep overhanging concrete canopy and horizontal, louvered aluminum sunscreens. “We did so many solar studies,” says Barbara Crum, P+W principal in charge, noting that the architects and the school wanted to have as much daylight as possible within the teaching spaces, laboratories, and common areas.

At the back of the curvilinear building, slightly higher on the ridge, two separate, concrete'block and steel-frame wedge-shaped structures house the theater/auditorium and two gymnasiums. Because of the slope, a linear plaza in front of the theater and gym allows students to enter the main building's atrium at the second level.

The spatially fluid plan and the generous expanses of glass inside and out emphasize the school's commitment to a flexible curriculum, where educational activities can be easily viewed by faculty, students, and visitors. “The transparency of the spaces and the open plan help foster the program of collaboration and project-based learning,” says Peter McKnight, principal of the senior academy. McKnight refers to the teaching method in which teams of students tackle problems based on real-life situations. Rather than emphasizing traditional rote learning, the school encourages its students to think critically, communicate, and create through collaboration. The focus of the school on science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics (STEAM) can be seen in a project where ninth- and 10th-grade students worked with two teachers, one in engineering, the other in business technology, to make a remote-control lawn mower for a physically challenged resident who lives nearby. A recent cross-disciplinary assignment involving the visual arts and geography investigated subjects such as street art in the Middle East, while a mathematics and biology study called for designing a community health station.

To foster these new approaches to teaching and learning, the architects created open project labs for groups of 24 students, fitted with rolling chairs, wireless networks, and access to water and power. Presentation areas with flat-screen monitors are common, while noise is mitigated by hanging panels between beams of the exposed ceiling. “We like to reveal the structure to show students how buildings are made,” says P+W project manager John Poelker. Resilient flooring also cuts down on reverberation of school sounds.

A large, four-story atrium and stair with stadium seating at the main entrance acts as the lobby and circulation linchpin for the 205,000-square-foot school, separating the junior academy (currently 366 students) on the eastern end from the senior one (with 201 students) on the west. (The top floors for 11th and 12th grades remain unoccupied, awaiting lower grades to move up.)

Drew is seeking a LEED Gold certification with such sustainable components as high-performance glass, occupancy sensors to regulate electric lighting, reclaimed white oak, and local stone. Additionally, the design includes 180 photovoltaic panels on the theater building's roof that contribute to electricity supplies, a mechanical system based on a self-contained water-cooled unitary device (SWUD), and the harvesting of rainwater for irrigation.

The students seem to be responding well to the architecture of space and light and the sense of openness. One, Anastasia, said, “It's nice to have all the glass,” pointing out that “the classrooms are unique and the common areas flexible.” However, Amaya, another student, noted, “It's distracting when all the people on tours are staring at us while we are working.” Such are the problems with success. It has become an educational mecca.


Formal name of building:
Charles R. Drew Charter School
Junior and Senior Academy at the Yates Campus

300 East Lake Blvd, Atlanta GA 30317

Completion Date:
July 2014

Gross square footage:
205,375 SF

Total project cost:

Total construction cost:

Charles R. Drew Charter School

East Lake Foundation

1315 Peachtree Street, NE
Atlanta, GA 30309
p. 404.873.2300
f. 404.892.5823

Personnel in architect's firm who should receive special credit:
Principal in Charge: Barbara Crum
Design Principal: Manuel Cadrecha
Project Manager: John Poelker
Project Designer: Chad Stacy
Project Architect: Neda Ghani
Project Team: Joe Jamgochian, Matt Finn, Marcia Knight, Denise Procida, Sumegha Shah

Landscape Design Principal: Leo Alvarez
Landscape Design Team: Justin Cooper, Micah Lipscomb, Valdis Zusmanis

Branded Environments Design Principal: Keith Curtis
Branded Environments Team: Buzz Busbee, Yancy Wilkinson, Korinna Hirsch, Christine King

Registered architects: Crum, Cadrecha, Poelker, Jamgochian, Finn, Shah

Architect of record:

Interior designer:

Pharr Engineering Associates, LLC
Principal in Charge: Wade Hunnicut

Uzun+Case, LLC
Principals in Charge: Jim Case, John Hutton
Project Engineer: Adrian Persaud

Newcomb and Boyd
Partner in Charge: Bob Howell
Project Manager: Ben Davenport
Project Team: Behzad Nasseh, Silas Khor, Javad Khazaii, Hugo Lastra, Michael Ernst, Tom Gattis, Rob Grant, Matt Harrison, and Tom Trask.

Acoustical: Arpeggio'Steve Ryherd

Food Service: Camacho Associates'James Camacho

Theater: Stagefront Presentation'Jim Brawley

Audio Visual: Waveguide'Lee Hutchins

Energy Modelling-Sustainability Consultant-Commissioning:
WorkingBuildings, LLC
Principal-in-Charge: John McFarland
Project Team: Adam Dovell, Scott McClure

Dekalb Office - Becky Perry
Steelcase - Elizabeth Young

General contractor:
JE Dunn Construction

Jonathan Hillyer Photography, Inc.

Gross square footage:

205,375 SF

Total construction cost:


Completion date:

July 2014



Structural system
Academic Building: Poured in Place Concrete Frame
Gymnasium and Fine Arts Building: Steel Frame

Exterior cladding
Field Stone regionally sourced in Tennessee
Corbelstone (cast stone)

Metal Panels: Berridge (Corrugated Metal Wall Panels)

Metal/glass curtain wall: Kawneer 1600 system

Salvaged White and Red Oak from the site
Carl DeMaria, Mark Products of Georgia (Millwork)

EIFS, ACM, or other: Reynobond (Composite Aluminum Panels)

Moisture barrier: Carlisle (MiraDri 860)

Curtain wall: Kawneer 1600 system

Built-up roofing: UltraPly TPO Membrane by Firestone

Viracon VUE1-40 #2 Clear Vision Glass
Vircaon VUE1-40 #2 with V903 Subdued Gray #4 Spandrel Glass

Entrances: Kawneer 1600 system

Wood doors: Eggers

Fire-control doors, security grilles:
' WON-Door Cross Corridor Fireguard
' Overhead Door Corporation

Special doors: Eggers (sound-control doors)

PDQ Industries

Closers: PDQ Industries

Exit devices: Von Duprin

Pulls: PDQ Industries

Interior finishes
Acoustical ceilings:
Armstrong (Mineral Fiber Ceiling Panels)
Hunter Douglass (Gladius Perforated Metal Ceiling Panels)

Suspension grid: Armstrong

Demountable partitions: Hufcor 632 Series

Cabinetwork and custom woodwork:
Leonard Peterson & Co (laboratory casework)
Mark Products (custom woodwork)

Paints and stains: Sherwin-Williams

Special surfacing: Sound tech acoustical wall covering

Floor and wall tile: Daltile

Resilient flooring: Forbo (MCT Marmoleum Composition Tile)

Carpet: Tandus (Expedition at Center for the Arts, Intersection at Academic Building)

Office furniture: Steelcase

Private Offices:
Steelcase: “Currency” desk, meeting table, bookcases; “Leap” task seating for Private offices: “Sawyer” guest seating

Teacher planning: Steelcase: “Kick” workstations; “Cobi” task chair

Conference Rooms: Steelcase “Convene/Host” tables; “Think” seating

Reception furniture: Steelcase “Jenny” guest lounge seating and Coffee Table; “Think” task seating

Fixed seating: Greystone (Harmon)

“Node”classroom seating
“Think”, teacher task seating
“Leap” task seating
“Cobi” stools for students in Project Labs and chairs for Teacher Planning
“Move” for caf' chair
“Campfire” lounge seating with “Paper” tables

Benches & Ottomans:
Coalesse “Ripple”bench
Turnstone, a Steelcase Company: “Alight” ottoman

Steelcase: “Verb” Classroom Collection; “Media:Scape”- HD Videoconferencing
Coalesse: “Akira”tables

Cogent Connect, Inspire Collection;
Connect 3D
3D Knit

Design Tex: “Pivot”

Interior ambient lighting: Lithonia Lighting (Metro Linear Direct/Indirect)

Downlights: Gotham Architectural Lighting

Exterior: Lithonia Lighting; Cooper Lighting

Dimming System or other lighting controls: Leviton (Occupancy Sensors)

Elevators/Escalators: ThyssenKrupp

Elkay (water fountains)
Zurn (water closets, urinals, sinks)

Energy management or building automation system: Schneider Electric

Photovoltaic system: Suniva (Optimus Series)

Other unique products that contribute to sustainability:
Salvaged red and white oak from project site, used throughout atrium and media center steps