Students circulate among the distinct academic, student life, arts, and athletic buildings throughout the day.
Buildings are sited to take advantage of the natural beauty and orientation of the landscape.
An arcaded circulation links the Arts Center with an interior courtyard.
As visitors approach the campus, old stone walls and speciment trees line a curving drop-off to the main Commons Building.
In the evening, the dining hall casts a warm glow across the heart of the campus.
The Athletics Center includes a flexible gymnasium with removable bleachers.
Fitness is a central part of the academic experience.
Access to daylight with blackout shades supports the theatre’s range of uses.
Upper School Campus, Ensworth School
Nashville, Tennessee
This independent day school planned to develop an entirely separate new upper school campus for grades 9-12. The challenge of siting the extensive program for the new high school campus, together with its related athletic fields, parking and circulation roads, was exacerbated by its historically significant site. The site is located between two seams of development: a rugged mountainside forest on the eastern edge and densely settled residential neighborhoods on the western edge. Several small buildings remained from the original graceful layout of old farm buildings on the 120-acre site.

The process began with a visioning exercise and physical Master Plan to address both curricular and physical goals for the school. The resulting program defined 250,000 gross square feet of built space in the first-phase of a complex build-out and an additional 100,000 gross square feet of future expansion, including a theater and natatorium.

Preservation of mature trees, old stone walls and several small historic buildings defined the layout hierarchy and site organization. The main entry sequence is organized by drop-off and parking along the wilderness edge, with distinct buildings organized around a central quadrangle. Defining this space are the Commons Building, Academics Center, Visual and Performing Arts Center and the Athletics Center. Playing and practice fields mediate between changing scales and context.

A contemporary expression, grounded in traditional planning roots, gives the new campus a striking sense of permanence and community. Throughout the day, as students move through the campus, distinct buildings with glass rotundas and other entry forms serve as markers of discrete activity.

The Commons Building contains the library, dining hall and central administration. A dramatic two-story library, the physical and symbolic center of campus, is used for small group work, assemblies and individual study. Soaring two-story umbrella trusses are the focal point of the multi-purpose dining space, which modulates between formal and informal configurations. The boundary between inside and outside, formal and informal is further blurred with outdoor seating beyond the primarily glass facade facing the quadrangle. Spilling out onto the courtyard, students move to the Academics Center to the west, the Arts Center to the east, or the Athletics Center toward the south.

The Academics Center contains classrooms for the humanities, along with mathematics and state-of-the-art laboratories for chemistry, biology and physics. Unique collaborative spaces foster frequent interaction among students and faculty, including generous lounges, informal gathering areas and small group study spaces. In many classes, discussions take place around Harkness tables, where each student is actively involved in the learning process.

The Arts Center contains rehearsal space for dance, band, orchestra and other musical ensembles, a photography studio and darkroom, small theater for performances in the round, and spacious art studios. Multiple media are explored in the art studios, which feature flexible seating and working arrangements and an abundance of natural light. With a series of double doors to the outside, students often work in small groups along the arcade on the northern edge and a small courtyard to the northeast. The Athletics Center contains a flexible gymnasium with removable bleachers and a school-wide fitness center that is used by every student and athlete. The Athletics Center also acts as a forecourt to the playing fields, which are located below the main quadrangle.

The education of the entire person—mind, body and spirit—is exemplified in the mission of the school and its new physical expression. The arts and athletics are considered an integral part of each student’s programs and the boundary between these expressions, as well as the inside and outside is intentionally porous. Small groups and classes often work in the courtyards and quadrangle. Anchored by the main circulation spine between buildings, which can be primarily external with the temperate Nashville climate, movement through the site is always linked to its extraordinary history and remarkable natural features.

Fast-track planning and implementation allowed the entire process, from Master Planning to occupancy, to be completed in just over two years. A significant accomplishment is that the entire project, including all site work and interior furnishings, was completed for just under $150 a square foot.


2004 Phase 1 Upper School Campus
2009 Performing Arts Theatre


250,000 SF


Boston Society of Architects, Honor Award for Design Excellence
American Institute of Architects Tennessee, Honor Award for Design Excellence
American School and University, Citation for Design Excellence
Brick Industry Association, Brick in Architecture Awards, Gold Winner


Jeff Goldberg/ESTO
Michael Lewis