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Sumit Singhal
Sumit Singhal
Sumit Singhal loves modern architecture. He comes from a family of builders who have built more than 20 projects in the last ten years near Delhi in India. He has recently started writing about the architectural projects that catch his imagination.

Intrinsic School in Chicago,Illinois by Wheeler Kearns Architects

 
March 7th, 2015 by Sumit Singhal

Article source: Wheeler Kearns Architects 

By converting a former lumberyard into a visually accessible school, Intrinsic School provides a model for the adaptive reuse of unorthodox structures into functional learning environments.

Image Courtesy © Steve Hall - Hedrich Blessing

Image Courtesy © Steve Hall – Hedrich Blessing

  • Architects: Wheeler Kearns Architects
  • Project: Intrinsic School
  • Location: Chicago,Illinois  
  • Photography: Steve Hall – Hedrich Blessing
  • Landscape Architect: Wolff Landscape Architects
  • MEP Engineer: McGuire Engineers, Inc.
  • Structural Engineer: Enspect Engineering
  • Civil Engineer: Terra Engineering
  • Acoustical Consultant: Threshold Acoustics
  • General Contractor: Clune Construction Co.
  • Date of Completion: 8/22/2014

Image Courtesy © Steve Hall - Hedrich Blessing

Image Courtesy © Steve Hall – Hedrich Blessing

Repurposes a Historic Structure
Not many educators would look at a shuttered lumber yard on Chicago’s Northwest Side and declare it the perfect place for a new school. The goal at Intrinsic was to convert a disused site for next-generation learning and repurpose as much of the existing buildings as possible. There were three buildings on site, originally constructed between 1911 and 1955. All featured historic bowstring truss roofs, though one building’s roof had collapsed. One of the most dynamic buildings was an open-air, barrelroofed shed constructed in 1955.

Image Courtesy © Steve Hall - Hedrich Blessing

Image Courtesy © Steve Hall – Hedrich Blessing

At least 75% of the historic structures were preserved, restored, and left visible within the learning environments to visually connect the students with the building’s industrial past and to subtly highlight the environmental and aesthetic value of reuse. New exterior walls on the south and west sides wrap the entry and circulation spaces, and plentiful windows are integrated into the pattern of the paneled facade. Inside, a “ship in a bottle” approach was used to create a two-story steel-framed building inside the existing building. This solution is visible from the main lobby where the new overlaps the old.

Image Courtesy © Steve Hall - Hedrich Blessing

Image Courtesy © Steve Hall – Hedrich Blessing

Rethinks Classroom to Integrate Technology
As the first school in Chicago—and perhaps the entire United States—purposefully designed for Blended Learning, Intrinsic’s multi-functional learning environments necessitated a reconfiguration of the traditional classroom. In a Blended model, teacher-led instruction is supplemented by individualized software based learning, so large, open “pods” have been organized around modalities, allowing a single space to simultaneously offer direct instruction, peer-to-peer learning, and independent work.

Image Courtesy © Steve Hall - Hedrich Blessing

Image Courtesy © Steve Hall – Hedrich Blessing

Subtly delineated in the flooring, each area is tailored to a specific use. Below an oversized, custom-built shade—a way finding element and acoustic dampener—a large table facilitates group projects and student-led learning. Focused around a big board—a write able projection surface—traditional instruction takes place at two locations in the pod. Around the edges, counterstyle desks of varying heights face the wall and create a “coastline,” allowing students to direct their attention to individual tasks. This environment, as well as adaptive software, serves the student’s ability to learn at his or her own pace.

Image Courtesy © Steve Hall - Hedrich Blessing

Image Courtesy © Steve Hall – Hedrich Blessing

The pod’s flexibility enhances the online learning. With as many as 4 teachers and 90 students, mobile seating helps facilitate “pop-up classes” aimed at reinforcing concepts or re-mediating misunderstandings while a “genius bar,”  where individuals can meet with instructors, provides the option of one-on-one instruction.

Image Courtesy © Steve Hall - Hedrich Blessing

Image Courtesy © Steve Hall – Hedrich Blessing

Promotes Well-Being Through Physical Liberation
Studies have concluded that both natural light and physical movement improve academic performance. Both are provided to students from the moment they enter Intrinsic. The double-height entry vestibule is flooded with natural light via a clerestory patchwork of glazing and a high-performance storefront. Tiered seating of the variety used in the learning pods creates a space to congregate and transforms one of the school’s most dynamic spaces—with views of the existing building’s original beams and bow truss roof, as well as to the outdoors—from a simple hallway to a functional and inviting place. The light from the lobby is brought into the classrooms through a single-loaded corridor and glazed partitions. Although windows on the east wall were not permitted, natural light is funneled into the enclosed science labs and seminar rooms via skylights.

Image Courtesy © Steve Hall - Hedrich Blessing

Image Courtesy © Steve Hall – Hedrich Blessing

Movement also contributes to student health and academic performance. The variety of learning and social spaces, enhances by the rotational nature of the Blended model, preventing students from being confined to their seats for long periods of time. By locating these spaces within one larger space, such movement is not disruptive to other grades and classes.

Image Courtesy © Steve Hall - Hedrich Blessing

Image Courtesy © Steve Hall – Hedrich Blessing

Enhances Access to Cutting-Edge Public Education
With a single-loaded corridor and extensive glazing, the school becomes a transparent and visually engaging addition to an under-served Chicago neighborhood. (Roughly 60% of students live within a mile and a half of the school, and as many as 86% come from low-income households; more than 6% are considered homeless.) The main lobby serves as a contemporary, startup-like gathering and circulation space that is visible to those approaching the main entrance by car or on foot. This visual access connects the neighborhood to the school and creates an open and welcoming atmosphere for students, parents, and visitors. In this way, the school helps stitch together a community in flux: As industry moves out of the area, families move in due to the low cost of housing. Because of its industrial history, however, schools often are scarce.

Image Courtesy © Steve Hall - Hedrich Blessing

Image Courtesy © Steve Hall – Hedrich Blessing

Creates Social Value
Although many neighborhood schools are built on the premise that amenities will be available to the community members, oftentimes such sharing is not made a priority in the design. As a result, opening a portion of the building while securing classrooms and offices can be troublesome. At Intrinsic, community access is enabled by its architecture, which places classrooms and community spaces on either side of the building’s main entrance. Valuable common areas such as the multipurpose room and practice field are located north of the entrance while all learning spaces are to the south. This division simplifies extracurricular events and eases security concerns, aided by a digital fob system that can be programmed to allow individuals various levels of access. Such social value is also created for the grade-level cohort. By grouping an entire grade (up to 180 students) within a single flexible area—the interconnected pods—encounters between students with similar interests or abilities are increased, thereby providing them additional opportunities for positive social interaction.

Image Courtesy © Steve Hall - Hedrich Blessing

Image Courtesy © Steve Hall – Hedrich Blessing

Materials
The juxtaposition of new and existing materials creates a compelling tension. Original wood beams and trusses were restored and left exposed while new materials were chosen for efficiency and functionality. A metal-panel facade system creates a continuously insulated envelope, and closed-cell polyiso spray-foam provides a lightweight insulation and roofing material, obviating removal of the layers of existing roof. Inside, sustainable carpet tile is used to creatively reinforce the pod’s various zones, and large orange shades are hand built using a felt-like material made from recycled milk jugs. High-performance nanogel-filled skylights keep the high-ceilinged pods from feeling too dark while a playful combination of fixtures in the hallway animate the spaces.

Image Courtesy © Steve Hall - Hedrich Blessing

Image Courtesy © Steve Hall – Hedrich Blessing

Reuse
The choice to preserve and showcase the lumberyard’s history provides immediate and long-lasting social, economic, and environmental benefits to the organization and its community. Its success proves that adaptive reuse can be done efficiently and effectively, despite challenges. The restoration of the original bowstring trusses required special permits. In the 9th grade pod, the team rebuilt the top cords for the trusses, and steel rods were placed at the bottom of the truss to reduce the tension load. The atrium’s massive beams also required steel “splints,” which support the columns wood at the base where it had rotted.

Image Courtesy © Steve Hall - Hedrich Blessing

Image Courtesy © Steve Hall – Hedrich Blessing

The school’s architecture directly impacts a student’s education by re-imagining the classroom for highly individualized, 21st-century learning.

Image Courtesy © Steve Hall - Hedrich Blessing

Image Courtesy © Steve Hall – Hedrich Blessing

Image Courtesy © Steve Hall - Hedrich Blessing

Image Courtesy © Steve Hall – Hedrich Blessing

Image Courtesy © Steve Hall - Hedrich Blessing

Image Courtesy © Steve Hall – Hedrich Blessing

Image Courtesy © Wheeler Kearns Architects

Image Courtesy © Wheeler Kearns Architects

Image Courtesy © Wheeler Kearns Architects

Image Courtesy © Wheeler Kearns Architects

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