Yamacraw Center for the Performing Arts
The sensitive design of new construction within a historic district is of utmost importance in order to achieve both preservation and progress. Such design understandably requires attention to location, scale, proportion, materials and other character-defining elements of the building’s context. The Yamacraw Center for the Performing Arts addition to Esther F. Garrison School for the Arts is a successful example of new construction within Savannah’s Historic District—one that offers appropriate design solutions mixed with functional education and performing arts spaces that will benefit the Savannah community for decades to come.
The original Garrison facility, located at 649 West Jones Street, was built in 1990 as a neighborhood school. It became a specialty campus in 2010 and serves the Savannah-Chatham County Public School System as a dedicated arts academy for students in kindergarten through eighth grade. In addition to their academic studies, Garrison students participate in a variety of fine and performing arts including band, orchestra, piano, vocal music, dance, theatre and visual arts. An emphasis is placed on fundamentals, theory, and performance and students are challenged throughout the curriculum, as well as in studios, workshops and collaborative cross-disciplinary projects.
The project site is located outside of the Savannah National Historic Landmark District but within the local Savannah Historic District, specifically within Choctaw Ward. Unfortunately, the historic integrity of the ward, and the adjacent O’Neil and Walton Wards, are quite deteriorated. There is one remaining contributing building within Choctaw Ward—Savannah Station, a two-story brick and stone building constructed in 1902. Railroad Ward, to the north, contains the Central of Georgia National Historic Landmark District Buildings, from which much of the current design inspiration is drawn.
From inception, the project partners identified this key goal; to design a performing arts space with a historically appropriate exterior and a functionally modern interior that would serve the school and its community. It was critical for the Yamacraw Center to be well-sited, both visually and functionally embracing the existing school, garden, neighborhood and adjacent historic facilities. In addition, the facility had to satisfy the Savannah-Chatham County Public School System design standards to the greatest extent possible, while recognizing appropriate deviations due to the public nature of the facility and its historic surroundings.
The building’s exterior needed to fit contextually within its historic environment, but to also be relatable to the existing and more modern main school facility. The clay-brick addition pays reverence to the bay pattern and brick corbelling at the adjacent historic Central of Georgia Buildings across Jones Street. The focus is on a symmetrical arrangement along with a wide entry plaza to create formal axis and provide connection to the street, sidewalk system and the existing walled garden. The plaza emphasizes the facility’s formal arrangement and encourages gathering and subsequent use of the previously existing adjacent walled garden, built to commemorate Savannah’s role in hosting portions of the 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympics. The garden, which has been largely ignored over the years, was incorporated into the planning of the new facility for use as a functional forecourt.
In addition to the center’s 600-seat hall, other interior spaces include a band hall, a piano studio, a chorus studio, a theater and dance studio and lobby and general support spaces. As it is a public school facility, the focus remained on efficiency, durability, and ease-of-maintenance with enhanced materials in more public portions of the building including Terrazzo floors at lobbies and corridors and dynamic ceilings and wall systems in public spaces. There are a state-of-the-art audio visual systems and acoustics and large windows to maximize natural light in the classrooms.
Finally, the facility’s proximity to the historic location of the Yamacraw Village and the importance of this community to the history and development of Savannah must be noted. Not only did the Yamacraw influence music, art, and religion, they shaped relationships with other populations. This area of Savannah became a melting pot of cultures. The school district’s commitment to preserving and respecting the history of the area and its peoples should be commended.
Completed in December 2017, the Yamacraw Center for the Performing Arts has already accommodated numerous school productions and is proving its invaluable use to the community as host to Savannah’s Philharmonic Chorus and Orchestra, the 2018 Savannah Music Festival and the Savannah Sings 2018! Festival.
26,0000+ Square Feet
Full Architectural Services