A couple of years ago on an early summer evening, I was driving into Natchez just after a thunderstorm, and suddenly, for the first time on scores of visits, I noticed Natchez High School off to the left. After doing a quick U-turn, I spent some time walking around this Modernist campus, which looked great, set in the midst of a wide green lawn with the sun shining on the purple clouds behind it. The “building” is actually composed of many small pods, each with four classrooms opening onto sidewalks and interior courtyards. The classrooms are arranged so that each one has two almost fully glazed walls. Then there’s what I think is a library at the front, with its distinctive folded-plate roof–an automatic magnet for Modernist-lovers.
As I snapped these pictures, I thought about the blog post I would write with them, but as often happens, I came back home, downloaded them, and forgot. Until recently, that is, when I was back in Natchez at the Historic Natchez Foundation looking at the “Hometown Teams” exhibit, and in the hallway I spotted this lovely aerial rendering of Natchez High, with R.W. Naef’s name prominently displayed as architect. There’s no date on the drawing, but I think I recall the school opened in 1962–it’s not in the MDAH HIstoric Resources Database. Naef, of Jackson, is in the MDAH database, with a list over over 100 buildings to his name.
This aerial view gives you a good sense of the connected-pod layout of the campus, although some later additions at the front of campus (which you can see in the Google map image below) clutter up the openness and clarity of the original. This pod design was on the cutting edge when it was open, with light-filled rooms and airy courtyards considered amenities for scholarly and social life. In today’s security-conscious society, though, I’ve heard these schools are sometimes considered a problem because the buildings are hard to close off from intruders and the courtyards make it difficult to observe students at all times. With that in mind, I applaud Natchez for keeping this stunning Modernist building in good shape and still in use as Natchez High School, motto “Yes We Can.” (Be sure to check out the wikipedia page, which looks to have been recently edited by two students in the Class of 2018.)