A Tribute to Max Isley

Photos courtesy of Alex Isley

Max Isley, who died Feb. 17, was the original architect of the Academy Road and Upper School campuses as well as the father of four Durham Academy alumni.

Brought in to design a school for the new Academy Road campus in 1964, Isley was tasked with designing a school that included classrooms and accommodations for kindergartners through eighth-graders, a library, an assembly room, administrative offices, a small gymnasium/auditorium and an outdoor recreation area. The result was a campus that he described as having a “residential personality” and proved to be his favorite project at DA.

“It had to be built economically without sacrificing quality,” Isley said in a story for Durham Academy Magazine’s summer 2018 issue. “My main priority was to create a ‘home away from home’ ambiance, so that the little ones, especially, felt a sense of security entering their classroom from a landscaped ‘yard’ through a ‘front door.’ ”

Five years after the Academy Road campus opened, DA announced in December 1971 that it was planning to build a $1.1 million Upper School on 42 acres at Ridge and Pickett Roads. Once again, DA turned to Isley, who replicated many of the same features that had been successful at Academy Road.

“Among additions was an auditorium/theatre complex,” he said. “The gymnasium was much larger with more amenities and outdoor playing fields accommodated a variety of events. Again, with plenty of space, I was able to create a high school campus on Ridge Road with the desired indoor/outdoor dynamics of the Academy Road school."