Ramping up

Playful vertical design center campus shortlisted in the ChiDesign CADE competition

By Alex Tsaparis and Enrico Beer Boimond

Can educational partners come together under one roof to create a new model for learning in Chicago?

The recent ChiDesign CADE competition, hosted by the Chicago Architecture Foundation, posed this question to designers. It challenged entrants to identify and develop solutions for the design of a “Center for Architecture, Design, and Education” (CADE) in the heart of Chicago. The competition brief called for a facility that would function as both a vertical campus and a learning center, with flexible spaces for out-of-school-time youth programs. This design education building would house a design and allied arts high school, as well as a headquarters and visitor center for the Chicago Architecture Foundation and headquarters for the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH).

We began with the street and creating a seamless transition from outdoor public space into the building.  We were inspired by the Piazza di Spagna in Rome where the steps create a sequence of spaces to observe a moment in the city’s identity and culture. As a reaction, we designed the street level of the CADE to slope downward through a series of ramps and steps, drawing visitors in and creating a large open forum for public discussion, tours, exhibitions, and understanding the city.

We wanted to create a façade that embodied the horizontal, open connection to the street level and the verticality of the campus. We envisioned a façade which nods at the vertical rhythms of Chicago’s defining International Style and suddenly morphs horizontally at the street level, creating two distinct entrances. To the south, the façade opens up and welcomes visitors and tourists to the Chicago Architecture Foundation at the ground level. To the west, the façade extends into the city as a separate secure upper level entrance for the school. This student access ramp extends around and over the ground floor. Here, students can observe or participate in the activity in the public atrium below on the way to class.

Our project reconsiders the typical configuration of classrooms connected by narrow hallways and how learning can be enriched in a vertical inner-city campus. Modular walls and furniture make up the learning spaces so they can easily be reconfigured to adapt to future needs. The floors of the learning spaces for the out-of-school-time youth programs and arts high school are purposefully misaligned and connected by a network of ramps, which echo the sloping street level and create boundless opportunities for learning and collaboration.

The ramps connect various spaces such as classrooms, innovation labs, a lecture hall, exhibit spaces, libraries, cafes, an urban garden, administrative departments and a gymnasium. The top floor houses the CTBUH headquarters which is collocated with a shared design and innovation studio for local students and the community. The end result is a vertical campus that playfully conceals and exposes its inner functions and processes, the building itself serving as an educational model and reference point for the city.

Our submission [we are early-career designers at VOA that took on the competition as an independent team] was reviewed by a panel of distinguished architects including David Adjaye, Stanley Tigerman, Billie Tsien, Ned Cramer, and Monica Ponce de Leon. The jury process also included a separate review by a committee of Chicago Public Schools students to select a Student Committee Prize.  Our project was shortlisted as one of the finalists and is exhibited in the Chicago Architecture Foundation Atrium at 224 South Michigan Avenue for the 2015 Chicago Architecture Biennial, open now until January 3, 2016.

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