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U of M Law School Restoration/Renovation Wins Top Honor from Architect Group

For release: June 8, 2011
For press information, contact Curt Guenther, 901-678-2843.

The Gulf States Region of the American Institute of Architects has given its highest honor to two Memphis firms – Askew Nixon Ferguson Architects (ANFA) and Fleming Associates Architects – for their “sensitive” renovation of the former U.S. Customs House / Post Office for the University of Memphis’ Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law.

The Memphis project won the coveted Honor Award, top among 11 projects honored, out of 127 submitted for consideration.  The award recognizes design excellence.

The AIA called the project “a perfect example of successful adaptive reuse.”  The judges went on to say, “The renovation has given new life to an under-utilized building, bringing vital activity to this part of the city, while enhancing the architectural character, preserving its historic significance, and improving energy efficiency and sustainable qualities.”

From left are Lisa Namie with Fleming Associates Architects, Law School Dean Kevin Smith, Bill Nixon with Askew Nixon Ferguson Architects, Tony Poteet, U of M Assistant Vice President for Campus Planning and Development, and Scott Fleming of Fleming Associates Architects. (Photo by Shawna Engel, courtesy of Bill Nixon)
 From left are Lisa Namie with Fleming Associates Architects, Law School Dean Kevin Smith, Bill Nixon with Askew Nixon Ferguson Architects, Tony Poteet, U of M Assistant Vice President for Campus Planning and Development, and Scott Fleming of Fleming Associates Architects. (Photo by Shawna Engel, courtesy of Bill Nixon)

Other comments from the jury included “sensitive treatment of an already beautiful building,”  “careful integration of new functional requirements into existing constraints,” and “classic, understated renovation shows off the existing building instead of competing with it.”

One juror said, “We were most impressed that the design made it look easy – although we’re sure it wasn’t.”  Another said simply, “The exterior glazed reading room is the icing on the cake!”

Bill Nixon, architect and partner with ANFA, served as project director and design architect for the project from its early days in 2002 until its completion in 2010.  Lisa Namie, project architect in charge of construction administration with Fleming Associates Architects, worked on the project from 2005 through completion as partner in the joint venture architectural team selected by the Tennessee Board of Regents.  Nixon said team collaboration was especially important during this project, because multiple clients, consultants, and agencies were involved.

The move by the University of Memphis School of Law to the historic U.S. Customs House, Court House and Post office building on Front Street in Downtown Memphis signaled a new era for the school, which is dedicated to providing the highest level of legal education to its students.  The building is located in close proximity to the federal, state, county and city courts as well as some of the major law offices of Memphis, thus providing students a better opportunity to be involved in the legal community.

The original part of the Customs House was built in the 1880's, and parts of that building can still be seen within the 1929 Classical Revival renovation.  The original Federal Courtroom on the third floor still exists and has been renovated and restored to be the Moot Courtroom for the Law School.  Renovations also included the creation of four large classrooms that each seat 100 students and a large auditorium that seats more than 200.  The 50,000-square-foot Plough Law Library was a major part of the renovation along with faculty and administration offices, facilities for a legal clinic, offices for student organizations, and interior study spaces and outdoor seating and study spaces.

Two roof terraces facing the Mississippi River provided for study and gatherings.  One of the highlights of the renovated building is the spacious rooftop reading room looking west over the Mississippi River to Arkansas.

The Gulf States Region of the AIA encompasses Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee.  Among the law school’s competitors were such projects as rebuilding a school that had literally been washed away, and transforming an existing metal shop building into a church.

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