Tasked with creating museum-quality models of two Brazos Valley African-American high schools that burned down in the 1960s, a group of Texas A&M graduate architecture students quickly discovered that the few remaining photos of the schools showed only portions of the buildings and there were no known architectural drawings to reference.
To recreate the two campuses, the design students had to rely on recollections from the high school’s former students who volunteered to share their memories and help envision their beloved alma mater anew.
“The alumni’s memories and stories were used to piece together the physical layout of the buildings,” said Mardelle McCuskey Shepley, the architecture professor whose studio tackled the project. “Without their remarkable recollections, these historically significant buildings would have otherwise been lost to history.”
Students spent two afternoons, each with alumni from a different school, creating sketches with details including doors, windows and rooms, as well as popular gathering places outside the buildings.
Finished models of the schools — Bryan’s E.A. Kemp High School and College Station’s Lincoln High School — were unveiled Dec. 3, 2013 at the Langford Architecture Center’s Wright Gallery during an event sponsored by the College of Architecture Diversity Council.
“By building models of the schools, the students are helping to resurrect the essence of these facilities within the community,” said Oliver Sadberry, curator for the Brazos Valley African-American Museum, where the models will be kept on permanent display.
The three-day Wright Gallery exhibit, also featured landscape design concepts for the grounds of the Brazos Valley African-American Museum created by undergraduate landscape architecture students under the direction of Chang-Shan Huang and Jun-Hyun Kim, associate and assistant professors of landscape architecture.
Working to enhance the museum’s identity and maximize the surrounding neighborhood’s potential, the students developed a site inventory and analysis and created design proposals, concept diagrams and site plans.
Their landscape solutions were informed in consultation with Sadberry and by research examining Brazos Valley African-American history and the social, economic and environmental context of the site and surrounding neighborhood.
“Throughout the semester, students demonstrated eagerness and a motivation to learn, a passion and commitment for their chosen profession and a willingness to take risks and challenge themselves,” said Huang.
“The landscaping projects, while providing learning experiences for the students, also opens new visions for the museum,” said Sadberry,
A highlight of the Dec. 3 diversity council program were a video and presentations by students explaining the model building process for the two black high schools. Joining Shepley’s students were Master of Urban Planning students led by Shannon van Zandt, associate professor of urban planning, who assisted with interview process.
The Wright Gallery exhibit also included portraits of historic figures in African-American history by Robert Schiffhauer, associate professor of architecture.
In another design exercise showcased at the exhibit and related to the high school model project, Shepley’s students created design concepts for a modern high school on the former site of Lincoln High School, where the Lincoln Community Center now occupies a renovated portion of the old school’s remains.
In their modern school design, students were asked to retain characteristics of the old high school as divulged in the former student interviews. They also strived for a solution that respects the ambience of the surrounding neighborhood and that incorporates “green” elements that contribute to the schools environmental and social sustainability.