Sidney Lanier High School, San Antonio
MECHANICAL ENGINEER: Alderson & Associates
STRUCTURAL ENGINEER: Alpha Consulting Engineers, (210) 227-3647
The challenge and opportunity in the design process lay within the school’s fortress-like appearance and boxy design. Heavy walls, exterior brick arches and windowless classrooms meant the school felt dark and closed off from the outside. The interior layout wasn’t easy to follow, leaving many disoriented. Students were cramped in small classrooms with few meeting spaces outside of classrooms.
But the building was structurally sound and flexible enough for a strategic redesign. To make it work, the team sliced off the roof and top section of the walls to add clerestory windows while inserting a central entry nave to create the atrium and the open entryway—adding light and energizing the interior. Shared central spaces with stadium seating and light-filled corridors replaced the dim hallways and confusing wayfinding. Filling in the brick arches with windows illuminated the ground floor and opened the facility to the surrounding streets.
The entire facility was future proofed; technology throughout the facility underwent a significant upgrade, and major systems, including the roof, were replaced. Simultaneous enhancement to energy and HVAC systems will cut the school’s energy bill by 60 percent.
The following is a sampling of materials used in the project:
TILE FLOORING ON STAIRS: Cotto D’Este
CARPET: Shaw Contract
MARKERBOARDS: Polyvision from Steelcase
MURALS: Acrovyn from Construction Specialties
Opened in 1915, Sidney Lanier High School is a community fixture in the cultural heart of San Antonio’s historic West Side with a significant number of fourth- and even fifth-generation students attending the school. Mural culture in San Antonio started at and around the school and, over decades, much of the interior was painted with imagery that reflected the traditions and artistic talent of the community.
LPA’s team, which included a former Sidney Lanier High School valedictorian, began to work with San Antonio Independent School District to plan the school’s future. Preserving the rich cultural history was an important part of the discussion. LPA surveyed artists and teachers, seeking the best way to celebrate the significant artwork. The final redesign re-created 10 key works and created a digital mural museum in the new building, preserving the art and its heritage to share with future generations of students. Spaces throughout the school have been reserved for current students to add their own contributions to this tradition.
As a space and school, the new Sidney Lanier High School is more flexible. The purity of the boxy building was turned into an advantage, making it easier to create a system of rooms that could be shifted and combined to fit evolving needs and new classes. More adjustable spaces for collaboration and socialization make layouts and classrooms more fluid, opening up the school, engaging different learning styles and allowing for different curriculums.
LPA’s renovation was recognized by AIA San Antonio for its excellence in historic preservation and community impact and received the chapter’s Committee on the Environment award for its exemplary use of the existing structure and high-performance design.
PHOTOS: Matthew Niemann, courtesy LPA, unless otherwise noted