Mississippi Architect, July 1964: Amory Middle School

The July 1964 edition of Mississippi Architect skips the editorial in favor of a notice about the AIA providing a speaker’s bureau to interested groups. Then it jumps straight to its highlighted Mississippi building, Amory Middle School, designed by Jackson (and Fondren neighborhood) architects Biggs, Weir, Chandler, Neal & Chastain.

I’ve heard that this was the first middle school, as opposed to junior high school, in the state. Maybe someone out there who knows more about educational history than I do can either verify or refute this. I’ve also heard that this was the first air-conditioned school in the state, but I’m a little more dubious about this one. As you’ll see from the text below, the architects and educators were pretty proud of the progressiveness of this building, hoping that the architecture would lead to “advanced teaching techniques.” I’m curious how that worked out in practice. In my experience, while architects and principals may love the idea of teachers moving around all day and not having a classroom of their own, teachers mostly hate the idea and eventually win out. I also wonder how the cafeteria that wasn’t really a cafeteria worked, or maybe how long it worked. Maybe someone out there can enlighten us.

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AMORY MIDDLE SCHOOL
Amory, Mississippi

BIGGS, WEIR, CHANDLER, NEAL and CHASTAIN
Architects
Jackson, Mississippi

E. W. RILEY CONSTRUCTION CO.
General Contractor
Fulton, Mississippi

EDUCATIONAL RESEARCH SERVICES
Educational Consultants
White Plains, New York

Research and planning for this school
was materially assisted by a grant
from Educational Facilities Laboratories,
New York, New York.

The new Amory Middle School building contains two major elements: class and recitation space, an “upper school” equivalent to grades seven and eight and a “lower school” equivalent to grades five and six, flanking a mutually utilized resources center.

There is no cafeteria as such. Each school has a multi-purpose room which serves, among other purposes, as the dining room, served by hot and cold food service carts during the lunch period.

Expecting 12 months use, including evenings, the building is all year air-conditioned.

The school was planned to accommodate two teaching techniques: (a ) the conventional system of a teacher with a class group of some 30 students acting more or less independently of other class groups and (b) the more advanced systems accommodating teaching teams, specialists, all teaching aids that offer promise, group endeavors, and student participation in the teaching process.

It is expected that the teaching techniques which will finally be employed must be evolved over a period of years, and that this evolution will move from conventional methods to varying degrees of advanced techniques, many of which, judging by the progress of the last 20 years, have yet to manifest themselves.

The school is still dominated by conventionally sized classrooms, but it will be noted that the usual array of built-in classroom equipment is absent. This is an attempt to foil the idea of a teacher becoming attached to a particular classroom a her home base. Further, should expected advanced methods replace those conventionally employed, there should be need for fewer rooms of normal classroom size in favor of larger spaces with individual carrels or similar devices. In that event, intermediate partitions have been planned for easy removal. Storage and equipment requirements for any stage of evolution of classroom areas will be met by loose and readily movable items.

The resources center is conceived much more inclusively than may be readily apparent from examination of the plans. It is considered to include the physical education space (which also serves for large group gatherings), the books and periodicals area, the audio visual and materials preparation center, the arts and crafts areas, and the science and music areas. These have been planned to intersupport one another. They are so related plan-wise that each may serve uses beyond its prime teaching function. Facilities provided in one area are not duplicated in another. Upper and lower school teacher’s lounges, school centers, seminar and project rooms are closely related to the resources center.

The central area, a skylighted interior court, is planned to be the most attractive of all interior spaces. In addition to its prime functions, it serves as student lounge and display center. Growing plants, pools and handsome furnishings form an interior oasis, providing the visual and psychological relief which an inward oriented plan required.


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This article is reprinted from the July 1964 issue of the Mississippi Architect, with permission from the Mississippi Chapter of the American Institute of Architects. View the full July 1964 issue of Mississippi Architect in a digitized format, or for other articles in this ongoing series, including the pdf version of each full issue, click on the MSArcht tab at the top of this page.



Categories: Amory, Architectural Research, Schools

8 replies

  1. Yeah, we wouldn’t want those teachers to become “attached” to a space–it might actually be utilized to put together all the things you need to teach your class. Even in higher education, one of my most frustrating issues is being assigned a classroom that does not meet the needs of the class I teach–don’t have the right audio-visual, has fixed seating when my class has to work in groups, etc.

    I especially liked the part about designing schools for teaching techniques that don’t exist yet; wonder with whom they were consulting to design for those techniques that had not been discovered?

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  2. I was in the first group of students to attend this new concept “Middle” School. It was built while I was in the 7th grade and we were the first 8th grade. A group of Amory teachers went to Saginaw, Michigan, to view and study a similar school two years before the building was completed. The concept worked well and the one year I attended was probably the best year I had besides Kindergarten. We enjoyed the team teaching, state of the art science lab, and many other aspects. I could write all day on the experience.

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  3. Suzassippi – you took the words right out of my mouth. Maybe we shouldn’t let architects set pedagogical philosophy? A great part of my classroom education in Vicksburg was enjoying how the different teachers’ classrooms reflected their personality. Each became a different sort of adventure or sanctuary for us ugly duckling bookworms. Imagine if that junior high science teacher had to haul around the big jars of pickled reptiles on the bookshelf in his room?

    But really this is quite an elegant place.

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    • I do think architects plan use of space in ways that help us to invent new ways of doing things. However, I have also worked in many nice buildings that were not conducive to instructing or learning. (The dorm I worked on for boys with severe mental and physical handicaps comes to mind–impossible to teach them developmental skills the way the building was designed.) It sounds like (from Tish H.’s comment) that this building was done in consultation with educators, so perhaps it was just that it was going to take a while for folks to come around to a new way of doing things.

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  4. One of my family members got caught up in the busing of the early integration period in Jackson and ended up at Powell School, which apparently was an even more radical concept, an Open Plan School that had only low walls and students could kind of wander and listen to whatever they wanted. He hated it, said it was total chaos and it set him back years. Somehow I can’t imagine a teacher coming up with that concept, but you never know. Powell, which is a middle school now, apparently got its walls back within only a few years. Architects, and some educators I think, seem to forget that architecture can only go so far before human nature asserts itself.

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