North Atlanta High School

DATE: 2013
LOCATION: Atlanta, Georgia, USA
OLD USE: Office complex
NEW USE: Public high school


The 56-acre property originally housed an IBM corporate campus. Built in 1977, the main tower featured eleven stories. Later in 1987, IBM constructed an additional tower The site also included elements such as a large retention pond and parking structure for about 1,000 vehicles.[1]


Developer: Atlanta Public Schools includes over 100 public and charter schools within Atlanta, Georgia The school system’s vision: “A high-performing school district where students love to learn, educators inspire, families engage and the community trusts the system.”[2]

Architect of Record: Cooper Carry is a national firm offering architecture, environmental graphic design, interior design, landscape architecture, planning and sustainability consulting services. Their multidisciplinary approach lets them integrate specialized knowledge to create “Connective Architecture: connecting ideas and people to the places where they work, relax, live and learn.”[3]

Associate Architects: Collins Cooper Carusi Architects offers a full range of design services including: pre-design and programming, architectural design, space planning, site and master planning, facility assessments.[4]

Engineer (MEP): Barrett, Woodyard & Associates, Inc. provides high-quality mechanical and electrical engineering services in the fields of HVAC, plumbing, fire protection, process piping, lighting design, power distribution, automatic controls, energy management and life safety systems.[5]

Engineer (Civil): Eberly & Associates is a land planning, civil engineering and landscape architecture firm offering solutions for the following market sectors: multi-family housing, education, government, and healthcare.[6]

Engineer (Structural): Uzun + Case was founded in 1993 by principals Tamer Uzun, James Case, Martin Cuadra and Larry McDowell and is one of the largest structural engineering firms in the Southeastern US.[7]


The adaptive reuse design includes the original 11-story concrete-framed office tower that spans over a scenic lake, a new assembly building, and an existing 942-car parking deck. In order to maintain the site’s beautiful terrain, the existing, on-grade parking lots were converted into athletic venues for baseball, softball, football, tennis and track. With a focus on sustainability, the project anticipates a LEED silver status.

The functional space needs of a high school are quite different from those of a corporate campus, however, the existing office tower was well suited to provide primary classroom, administration and food service space. The top eight floors contain four small learning communities that are each housed on two floors. Each learning community which contains one grade level was designed with a large double-level public space that includes a dramatic, connecting staircase. These focal spaces create a place for students to connect, hang out and identify as their own space. In addition, from a student’s perspective, each of these learning communities breakdown the size of the school into a space that each student can connect with.

The project presented a particular challenge of efficiently moving 2,350 students throughout the 11-story tower and ensuring that students arrived to class on time. Cooper Carry devised a floor access system where staff and those with disabilities have access to every floor while students are only granted elevator access to the top floor of each academy and other public floors. As a result, students are encouraged to use the stairs in their own community, minimizing the number of elevator stops. A third set of stairs was added to the center of the tower for safety and convenience. Drawing on Cooper Carry’s experience designing high-rise hotels and office buildings, the design team replaced the traditional, outdated elevators with state-of-the-art destination elevators found in newer high-rise hotels and offices. This high tech system directs users to specific elevator cars, transporting them to the same floors and thus reducing the load time in half.

An additional assembly building constructed adjacent to the tower includes large, high-volume spaces with special acoustic needs and accommodates a 600-seat auditorium, a 150-seat black box theater, music rooms and a 2,100-seat competition gymnasium with practice gym. A ‘Main Street’ design approach was used to connect the two main buildings and parking facility.

The local community, faculty, and students have embraced the new sustainable learning environment since its opening in Fall 2013. The project has won several awards including ULI Atlanta’s Awards for Excellence, ENR Southeast’s Best K-12 Project Award, and the Council of Education Facility Planners International (CEFPI) Georgia Chapter’s Best in Renovation Design Award.[8]

[1]The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
[2]Atlanta Public Schools
[3]Cooper Carry
[4]Collins Cooper Carusi Architects
[5]Barrett, Woodyard & Associates, Inc.
[6]Eberly & Associates
[7]Uzun + Case
[8]The Wilbert Group

Images courtesy of Josh Meister Photo.