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Erdy McHenry Architecture
915 Orianna Street
Philadelphia PA 19123
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Southern Poverty Law Center

Located in Montgomery, Alabama, this center is known for its years of courtroom accomplishments, legal victories against white supremacist groups, monitoring of hate activity across the country, national tolerance education, and the Civil Rights Memorial.  The Center was founded in 1971 by Morris Dees and Joe Levin, two southern lawyers who shared a commitment to racial equality.

The work of the Southern Poverty Law Center is essential to this country in achieving equality for all. The design for their new headquarters building strives to educate the visitor/participant about the issues surrounding the Civil Rights movement. However, this task cannot be achieved by architecture alone. It must be a combination of the physical environment and the efforts of the people within.

The design team is proud to be involved with such an organization.

The building design works to further the cause of Civil Rights through a variety of design issues. As an icon for the work of the Southern Poverty Law Center, the building will act as a reminder that abuses of civil rights still are many and widespread. In addition, the building is part of a larger site context that includes the Civil Rights Memorial and the church where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. first began his sermons on equality.

The siting of the building takes advantage of these features by pushing back from the memorial to create a public plaza. This creates a precinct for the memorial and the new headquarters building. The building raises up from its concrete base to provide unobstructed views of Dr. King’s church from the memorial.

The interior layout of the building is designed to promote interaction. The building organizes into two components. The “support core” contains all support services and hard-wall spaces. The “office block” is a column-free, open office environment with its primary view oriented to the north. This open office block will foster a new era of interaction among the lawyers, whose work space has until now been isolated by hard-wall offices.

The open office area gets floor-to-ceiling glass facing north. By contrast, the south facade is more solid, giving only specific views of the memorial. The experience of seeing the memorial becomes a special event for the staff member who works in the building throughout the day.

Supporting the theme of interaction, the double-height library/work spaces create an opportunity for team interaction. They face to the south, giving them a specific and directed view of the Civil Rights Memorial. These spaces are also visible to the visitors of the memorial, creating a visual connection between the civil rights activist of the past and those currently working for the cause.

The new headquarters is a six-story, 62,000 square foot facility with underground parking for approximately 120 cars. The building consists of a concrete and steel structural frame, with stone and metal cladding.

Awards Received:

2008 – AIA Montgomery, AL Chapter Honorable Mention

2004 – AIA Gulf States Region Honor Award

2001 – AIA Philadelphia Gold Medal

1998 – AIA Philadelphia Award of Recognition