Founders of the American Hebrew Academy couldn't get Frank Lloyd Wright to design the new boarding school. So they hired the closest thing to him, Aaron Green, one of the few surviving architects who worked under Wright.

Wright, considered by many the century's best building designer, has been dead for 40 years.Green is going strong at 82, and he seemed wowed by the assignment that brought him from his office in San Francisco to Greensboro on Tuesday - to create the Hebrew Academy, the nation's first Jewish boarding high school.

During a ceremony at Guilford College, Green's master plan was unveiled for the 100-acre campus on the former Jefferson-Pilot Country Club site in northwest Greensboro.

Eight to 10 buildings will be constructed during the first phase, which will begin in November. The largest structure will be a 60,000-square-foot gym/fitness center. Eventually, the campus will grow to 55 buildings, including a performing arts center and many small dorms, each housing 18 to 19 students plus faculty advisers.

The school promises a student-teacher ratio of 12 to 1; a curriculum stressing western civilization and Judaism; and a goal of sending graduates to the nation's elite colleges and universities.

Many schools start out on a shoestring budget in temporary trailers.

The Hebrew Academy intends to open in the fall of 2001 with new buildings and 100 students in the 9th grade. One grade will be added each of the next three years, with enrollment eventually reaching 800, including both boarding and day students.

``This is a client that wants you to do all the things that as an architect you want to do. It's rare to find such a client,' said Green, who in 1959 helped carry out Frank Lloyd Wright's last project, the Marin County Civic Center near San Francisco.

The center is now a National Historic Landmark because of the way it blends building with landscape, Wright's goal for every project. Wright died at age 92 after completing the center's drawings.

Wright was a notorious budget-buster. Green doesn't expect that to be a problem with the academy.

``They haven't even given me a budget yet,' he said, adding he was just told to create the best design possible.

Glenn Drew, chairman of the academy's board of directors, said the $40 million cost of phase one already has been raised from within the area's Jewish community.

Drew, an attorney who lives in Greensboro and works in Burlington, said tuition for the school hasn't been determined.

Campus buildings will be built of stones from Jerusalem with copper and green ceramic tile roofs. Skylights will be plentiful. A botanist, Moni Bates of Greensboro, has been hired to identify trees and plants to be protected during construction. She will supervise replacement of flora that must be cut down.

People and cars won't clash on the campus, which includes a 22-acre lake. All autos will be left in a parking lot at the gate.

On campus, visitors, students, faculty and staff will either walk or ride electric golf carts, other kinds of electric vehicles or bikes to reach classroom buildings, the synagogue, student and faculty housing, the gym, dining pavilion, and playing fields.

Drew and Alvin Mars, the academy's first headmaster, emphasize the school's theme of organic architecture. That means creating buildings that complement rather than dominate the landscape.

Wright pioneered that concept, Green still preaches it, and it fits with the Jewish commitment to good stewardship of natural resources.

The setting for Tuesday's announcement was the library at Guilford College, a Quaker institution in a Southern city that is heavily Baptist.

Asked why the Bible Belt for the first Jewish prep school and why now, headmaster Mars replied, ``This is the time and the place.'

Drew pointed out that despite its relatively small Jewish population, Greensboro has a strong Jewish heritage. This dates to the 1890s with the arrival of the Cone and Sternberger families, who built the Cone Mills empire. The city's oldest synagogue, Temple Emanuel, has announced that it will build a new sanctuary across from the Hebrew Academy, which will have its own synagogue.

Enrollment in the academy won't be limited to Jewish students, but the organizers say the school will be heavily grounded in Judaism, helping young Jews ``discover and rediscover who we are as a people,' Mars said.

Green will be assisted in the design of the school by the Greensboro architectural firm of Moser Mayer Phoenix Associates, which is exploring the creation of an underground geothermal system that would use groundwater to heat and cool the buildings. The bow-tied architect doesn't appear a carbon copy of the flamboyant Wright, who usually wore a cape.

Wright also had a reputation of being stubborn and arrogant. But don't believe a word of it, Green said.

``Ninety percent of the legends about Frank Lloyd Wright are fallacious,' he declared. ``I was with him for 20 years and we never had a harsh word. He was a wonderful man. For Frank Lloyd Wright, architecture and life were one. His standards were so high, he was always pushing.' Just as Wright did, Green grimaces at what passes for architecture today. ``You see more ugliness than beauty,' he said. In creating the academy, he added, ``We are attempting to do something different than what is done on a daily basis in architecture.'

Get today’s top stories right in your inbox. Sign up for our daily morning newsletter.

Load comments