Crosstown High School

Architect: ANF Architects

Owner: Crosstown High School

Location: Memphis, Tennessee

Award of Design Excellence

Nested in the heart of Crosstown Concourse in Memphis, Tennessee, this innovative 500-student high school is an integral component within this newly-transformed vertical urban village. Formerly a Sears regional distribution center, this one million square foot building lay vacant for nearly two decades before its rebirth as Crosstown Concourse, a vibrant hub for education, wellness, and the arts. Crosstown High is uniquely situated on the first, fourth, and fifth floors of the east tower of the iconic art deco building.

This public high school provides students with multigenerational mentoring and exposure to medical professionals, artists, scientists, community leaders, other educators, and community partners who live and work within the Concourse and surrounding community. Conceived in response to the XQ Super School call to rethink the American high school, Crosstown High, at its foundation, is a learning lab. Students, educators, and community leaders were partners throughout the collaborative design process exploring the future of high school education. Fundamental to our initial design process, students, through a series of workshops, used words, images, and Legos to explore what their ideal high school should and could be. A word cloud was then generated graphically depicting the strongest, most often expressed ideas.  

These words: energetic, innovative, fun, bright, futuristic, inspiring, became design drivers. As an alternative to the traditional homeroom, a basecamp parti pris was conceived. The student basecamp is an intentionally designed, flexible learning module consisting of an entry portal, collaborative core, and flanking classrooms connected by large garage doors. Eight student basecamps are located on the fourth and fifth floors of the high school. Each basecamp is home to a group of 40 to 60 students with a common learning focus and identified with its own unique vibrant color. A variety of furniture options support individual student needs and promote an active learning environment to enhance student engagement.  

"Activates an underappreciated area in Memphis and speaks to a student population in a positive way." ~ Jury comment

The learning commons weaves its way around the basecamps serving as both circulation and flexible learning environment. Students collaborate, eat, study, relax, and connect throughout the learning commons. A seating riser and monumental stair connect the learning commons between the fourth and fifth floors becoming an informal gathering place for students. This organic path offers students the flexibility to chart their individualized educational course allowing teachers and students alike to grow as learners, innovators, and change makers. Graphics and colorful wayfinding are integrated seamlessly within the architecture. Large plywood graphics evoke shipping crates from the warehouse’s past.  

Bright portals interrupt the learning commons with vibrant colors at the floor, ceiling, and walls. A unique color identifies each individual basecamp enhancing wayfinding and bringing visual interest and identity. These colorful portals become the threshold between public and private, circulation and basecamp. Large uninterrupted glass windows visually connect the learning commons to classroom spaces, other tenant spaces within the concourse, and the outdoors, encouraging collaboration and curiosity. The large east atrium brings natural light into the center of the fourth and fifth floors and provides views and connection into the concourse itself.

Additional information

Architect: ANF Architects

Educational Design Consultant: WONDER, by Design

Engineer - MEP, Structural: SSR, Inc.

General Contractor: Grinder, Taber & Grinder, Inc.


Michael A. Nieminen, FAIA, (2019 Chair), Kliment Halsband Architects, New York, NY

Meryati Johari Blackwell, AIA, Marlon Blackwell Architects, Fayetteville, Arkansas

Jason Forney AIA, Bruner/Cott Architects, Cambridge, Massachusetts

Kim Tanzer, FAIA, Gainesville, Florida

JoAnn Hindmarsh Wilcox, AIA, Mahlum Architects, Seattle, WA

Image credits

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Ryan Rhea

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Ryan Rhea

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Ryan Rhea

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Ryan Rhea

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Joe Luther