Memphis Union Mission

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Memphis Union Mission
Apr 15, 2020
Pickering Firm

In 2014, Pickering was selected to provide engineering and architectural design for the Memphis Union Mission’s new Opportunity Center, which will serve as Memphis and Shelby County’s primary emergency shelter. The new facility will allow the Mission to enhance their services and capacity - which has been limited due to lack of space - and better address the needs of Memphis. When complete, the facility will house up to 150 daily guests with the potential of housing an additional 300+ temporary overflow guests during various times of need (450+ total). Program elements include classrooms, meeting spaces, assembly areas, offices and support, as well as food service, worship space, clinics and dorms.

Phase I construction of this three-phase project is underway and is intended (conditions permitting) to be complete in Fall 2020.

Tim Ogburn, AIA, LEED AP, BD+C, serves as the Senior Architect on this project, and will elaborate on design decisions and what this project means to him.

How did Pickering get involved in this project?

This project is the culmination of a design process that began over 6 years ago. We have been working closely with Memphis Union Mission to design not just the first phase, but two additional phases that will be constructed at some point in the future. Our charge was to create a building that will last for a minimum of 50 years.

We are staying as judicious and cost effective as possible while maintaining the design and aesthetic appeal of the project. Our goal is to use the best and most durable materials available to provide long-term durability and lower overall maintenance costs over the next 5 decades.

What makes this project so interesting?

There are so many components that make this project interesting from an architectural and engineering standpoint. We have incorporated some unique features that are not typical in Memphis-area building and structures—however, as energy efficient projects grow in Memphis, we are starting to see them become more common. For example, this facility was constructed with radiant floor heating (a series of tubes embedded into the concrete slab when poured) to continuously pump and carry heated water through the floor. Using this system can provide heat and temperature control throughout the building and decreases the amount of HVAC components required. Radiant floor heating is energy efficient and provides a comfortable way to accommodate on overflow of guests on a cold night.

We are also highly insulating the facility. It is being constructed to include building envelope commissioning which will help minimize air leaks and ensure that the building uses less energy to heat and cool. We designed a rainscreen exterior wall that is constructed with terra cotta panels to keep rain off the inner wall. The panels are fixed with Green Girts that help limit the thermal transmittance of heat and cold along the exterior wall. These panels are easy to replace if, for some reason, a panel is damaged or broken. This highly energy-efficient and durable building envelope will provide long term value that will help the Mission save on utilities so that more money can go towards helping the people they serve.

What has been motivating during this long-term project?

The Opportunity Center was designed to make occupants and guests feel comfortable and make them want to go inside. The materials we chose are aesthetically appealing and gives occupants, volunteers and staff a feeling that it is not institutional. We brought as much light into the space as possible so that we could provide everyone with natural light to feel comfortable and lift their spirits. There is a bible verse that the CEO used when he first spoke to us that has carried throughout this project.  It was part of our original design charge and is at the very heart of what we’ve done: Since you have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, you have done it unto me. To me, that is the essence of our design for this project.

The ways this project will help the Memphis Union Mission will be immeasurable. Their operations will be streamlined, they will actually be able to help even more people, and they can provide help even more efficiently than they do now. I also hope a side effect of this new space (that was not an original goal) is that more people will volunteer. The building’s presence will raise awareness of their mission and it could even increase their support by people from all over the community. 

Why is this project special to you personally? What are you most excited about as progress continues?

There is so much that is very special about this long-term project.  The facility is one of the most important buildings I have ever been involved in, mainly because of what the organization and facility does for people in need. My greatest wish is that it really helps to bring people out of homelessness, despair, poverty and lack of resources. I hope that this building improves the lives of people here in the city and region and makes the world a better place. This is the type of project I never thought I would have an opportunity to work on, but now that I have, I am so thankful. I like to think that it’s changed me in many ways for the better. I never knew or thought that it would do that.

As far as the physical building portion that I am most excited to see, I really like seeing the work along Poplar. Once that elevation is near completion, it will change the presence of the Mission along the Poplar corridor permanently.

How does Pickering’s own mission tie into this project?

Service and Good Work. If Mr. Pickering were here today, I think he would say that the Memphis Union Mission is absolutely the type of project he intended for this firm to work on when he said that.

Memphis Union Mission ministers to the physical, spiritual, and emotional needs of men, women, and families who are homeless addicted, and in crisis. This organization provides food, shelter, clothing and opportunity and operates solely on donations from individuals, corporations, churches and foundations. Memphis Union Mission launched a website to help you stay informed about the project and all that it entails. To learn more about this exciting project, and to help support the future of care in Memphis for those in need, visit  This information, and more, can be found at


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