Grant High School Modernization

Architect:  Mahlum Architects

Owner:    Portland Public  Schools  

Location:  Portland, Oregon

Category: Merit

Sharing a 30-acre site with Northeast Portland's Grant Park, Grant High School quickly became a significant part of the community's heart when it was built in the 1920s. The historic classical revival brick and terracotta school building was beloved by former students and the larger neighborhood, immortalized in Beverly Cleary's Ramona Quimby book series. By the 1960s, a series of additions prompted by the community's rapid growth transformed the campus into a maze of outdoor passages. Despite its stature, 50 years of deferred maintenance left the school seismically deficient, inaccessible, and filled with various hazardous materials.

This project demonstrates that bold design solutions can address legacies of disadvantage and oppression through engaged and empathetic design. For the $138 million, 1,800-student renovation, the team designed for everyone, delivering accessible, inclusive restrooms, connectivity across the school's many spaces, daylight to five disconnected basements, and a renewed relationship with the park. The school is a precise marriage of historical charm and tomorrow's best practices for designing teaching spaces.  

"This was a challenging project and the level of rigor and thought put into this design is admirable; every architect should aspire to engage in a project where mission and design are closely linked."- Jury comment

"This was a challenging project and the level of rigor and thought put into this design is admirable; every architect should aspire to engage in a project where mission and design are closely linked," said the jury. "This project demonstrates what you can do during the planning process to promote equity. It is an example of a building that acknowledges and transcends a shameful past to remain relevant to its occupants."

A new 30-foot, three-story bay was added to the west side of the existing structure, and the basements were removed in some cases and connected in others. The team sculpted the ground plane to provide new exterior courtyards that seamlessly connect Grant Park to the campus. This combination of elements connects all of the spaces fluidly, reducing students' feelings of isolation and anxiety and replacing the school's original double-loaded corridor arrangement with a core of modern learning spaces.

The design also intentionally addresses a legacy of division through a three-story, open, central stair, amending previously disjointed connectivity between the upper and lower floors. Multistory gathering spaces and forums flank the stair at either end. This intervention has radically transformed the school, which struggled earlier when nearly 30% of its learning spaces were scattered across five disparate basement levels.

Two new commons serve food, providing broader access for students who need reduced-fare food. During lunch periods, the campus is full of life, and students from a wide range of socioeconomic means gather at its heart. The school's career and technical education programs are now distributed throughout the camps, prompting opportunities for programmatic expansion and integration while defining exciting pathways to meaningful careers.

Additional information

Preservation  Consultant: Peter Meijer Architect

Structural Engineer: KPFF Consulting  

Engineers Mechanical Engineer: Interface Engineering

Electrical Engineer:  Interface Engineering

Civil Engineer: Mazzetti/BHE Group

Landscape Architect: Mayer/Reed

General Contractor: Andersen/Colas Construction


Olivia Graf Doyle, Assoc. AIA (Chair), Architecture for Education, Inc, Los Angeles, CA

Angela Freeman, Reynolds School District, Portland, Oregon

Evie Klein, Assoc. AIA, Pratt Institute, New York, NY

Mathew Ryan Lowe, DLA Architects,  Itasca, Illinois  

Image credits

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Benjamin Benschneider

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Benjamin Benschneider

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Benjamin Benschneider

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Benjamin Benschneider

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Benjamin Benschneider