Creating toward a better tomorrow

Charles Atherton Elementary Awarded Stars of Distinction

Charles Atherton Elementary, designed by IDG+ Architects was honored by the Texas Association of School Administrators (TASA) and the Texas Association of School Boards (TASB). Awarded the Stars of Distinction, Exhibit of School Architecture, Atherton was awarded Stars of Distinction for excellence in three of the five areas of distinction.

Atherton was awarded Stars of Distinction for excellence in three of the five areas of distinction.

Atherton Elementary was designed as a 21st Century school. The range of features requested include vivid bursts of color, natural light, shared activity spaces, moveable walls, flexible seating arrangements and sustainable design based on the criteria outlined by Houston’s Independent School District, (HISD).


Flexible learning spaces can be found throughout the interior and exterior of the school. The building acts as a learning tool using a color-coded system to differentiate mechanical systems and structure. Numbers were also scored into the stairs to further enhance interactive learning. Sustainability is encouraged by use of recycling bins along with roof planting gardens for students. The design incorporated extensive use of color and natural daylight throughout the facility.


Exterior elements of the school consist of stone, masonry and metal panels. Other design elements include sun shading devices, metal canopies and outdoor gardens. The team added clerestory windows to bring in natural light along the main artery including northern light that filters in at the second level. Flexible learning spaces were incorporated to inspire different levels of learning. Additional areas included a Cafetorium, Performing Arts wing and student roof planting gardens.


An instrumental element to the design was to make the facility environmentally friendly. To obtain LEED certification by the U.S. Green Building Council, the facility includes a green roof with native plants for landscaping, utilizing local materials, installing a high efficiency energy system & high-albedo roofing for ongoing accountability of building energy consumption and provide daylight and views into regularly occupied areas. LEED Silver is pending.

The key element of the design focuses on community, a truncated sphere we call the history rotunda. It displays biographies of former students who attended the school who played an important role as mentors, educators, and politicians. Moreover, the Entry Plaza will display names of people who contributed and have been a part of the continued success of the school such as Barbara Jordon, Mickey Leland, El Franco Lee, Harold Dutton, George Foreman, Dr. Ruth Simmons.

The goal was to make Atherton a 21st Century elementary school that enables students to foster creative thinking, flexible problem solving and collaborative learning. Research played a significant role in transforming the school into the learning tool it is today. We involved the community in the design process through interactive briefing and design charrettes. By engaging the community, students, and staff, we fostered a long-lasting relationship, and provided an effective learning environment.

The project is on display on the Exhibit of School Architecture website. The Exhibit of School Architecture awards are given annually for new or renovated Texas schools and celebrates excellence in planning and design of the learning environment.

Houston Independent School District – 5.1 acre site, $12.6M construction cost, LEED Silver Certification

Click here to learn more about IDG+ Architect’s K-12 design.

Atherton Elementary was named after Charles H. Atherton, who became the first principal of the Houston high school and he stayed in that position for twenty years. Thus he became a pioneer educator in Texas. The school is now known as Booker T. Washington High School and has celebrated its centennial.

Atherton first arrived in Texas in the 1880’s after graduating from Mico College in his native land, Jamaica. Before becoming principal of Colored High School in 1893, Atherton was principal of an elementary school in Houston. It was known as the Third Ward School and Atherton served at its helm for at least five years before becoming principal of the high school.

Atherton spent his entire life as an educator, including serving as dean and professor at Prairie View A & M College. Even in religion, Atherton was concerned with education. He was very active with the Methodist church and recruited many of his teachers from Wiley College and other Methodist colleges. He also headed the Olivewood Cemetery Association which operated the Methodist cemetery.