Article Michael Kahn | Photography Fredrik Brauer
Every autumn for nearly a century, high school students have walked through the doors of the classical brick school building at the southeastern edge of Piedmont Park to begin the school year.
Today, the campus is home to Henry W. Grady High School, but the facility originally opened in 1924 as Boys’ High School. The school is a tangible link between generations of Atlanta students, and a physical manifestation of the trajectory of the Atlanta Public School System.
First constructed during a period of great growth in the city, which necessitated the development of nearly a dozen schools, the old Boys’ High facility—now just one of many buildings which comprise the Grady campus—is attributed to noted classicist Philip Trammell Shutze.
An architect at the Atlanta firm Hentz, Reid and Adler, Shutze was a recipient of the prestigious Rome Prize, which allowed him to study classical architecture throughout Italy between 1915 and 1920. The influence of that experience is legible not only at Grady High School, but in his other notable works including The Temple on Peachtree Street, the Academy of Science on West Peachtree Street, the old Rich’s Building downtown, and the Swan House in Buckhead.
As one of his earliest works in Atlanta, the school building reflects experimentation with his melding of vernacular Southern style and Italian classicism. The three-story structure is constructed predominantly of red brick, a common material in Atlanta at the time for civic and commercial structures. However, rather than create just a simple brick wall, Shutze embellished the design.
The brick is arranged in a Flemish bond pattern, resulting in an almost basket-weave pattern of alternating short (header) and long (stretcher) faces of brick. A mark of early brickwork, denoting that the walls serve as the structural support for the building, the patterning is emphasized thanks to the use of reflective grey bricks for the headers, which create a shimmering effect when struck by sunlight. The arrangement is unique, likely the only such application in the city, and an example of Shutze ingenuity with creating interest out of otherwise mundane materials.
But that is far from the only decorative design decisions Shutze employed.
Stretching for more than a block, the mass of the long building is broken up into five distinctive segments through the use of slight recesses and bump-outs, emphasized by grey stone quoins—stacked stones at the corner of a building, first used in Roman architecture.
At either end of the building, Shutze borrowed liberally from 15th century Italian architect Leon Battista Alberti, who is known by architectural historians for an array of church facades in the mid-1400s (below left). The terminating facades at Grady are traceable to Alberti’s Santa Maria Novella facade, which he designed to be added to a 13th century church in Florence. Symmetrical curving scroll work, capping a rectangular central volume accented by a circle at its center, and capped by a triangular pediment, unite the designs across more than four-and-1/2 centuries.
Shutze clearly did his homework.
Just a dozen years after the school opened, Shutze—by that time a principal of the firm now called Hentz, Adler and Shutze—would return to the campus to design an auditorium and gymnasium just to the rear of the school, borrowing much of the same language of the main building. The addition would be the last notable addition of Shutze’s on the campus, though he would not be the last acclaimed Atlanta architect to have a lasting impact at the school.
After consolidation efforts in the late 1940s, the school was renamed for Henry Grady—the noted orator and Atlanta Constitution editor who coined the term “the new South.” Soon after the renaming, a major expansion was undertaken at the school to add a modern football stadium to accommodate the growing student body.
Richard Aeck, a noted modernist in Atlanta, was tapped to design the facility. With dramatically leaning light towers which serve as a part of the structure holding up the grandstands, the sleek, modern stadium contrasts greatly with the classical Shutze buildings and highlights the dramatic changes in architectural styling in Atlanta from before and after WWII.
From the 1950s to the 1980s, the campus saw many new structures to accommodate student population growth and changing demands on education facilities. New classrooms, a gym, a theater, and a cafeteria were all added, though the facilities were mostly utilitarian expressions, underscoring a diminished emphasis on design which typified much construction in those decades.
Finally, in 2006, a new classroom building was added, replacing many of the mid-century additions. Designed by Perkins+Will, the building acknowledged the historic context of the Shutze building through material use, detailing, and proportions, while offering no doubt about its vintage.
Through the years, the Grady High School campus has seen dramatic changes, with new buildings and renovations to keep the facilities up-to-date. The collection of architecture—from Shutze’s grandly classical building to Aeck’s streamlined stadium—is a testament to some of Atlanta’s most noted architects and a legible manifestation of changes in style, functionality, and the education system over time, and an enduring landmark for Midtown.