The University Record, March 5, 2001

Faculty team is finalist in Chicago school design competition

By Kate Kellogg
News and Information Services

The U-M architectural team known as Ground Design Studio won the finalist award for this entry in the Chicago Public Schools Design Competition. The design combines the concepts of universal design—equal access for people with all levels of ability—and ‘small schools.’ The ‘small schools’ approach to school design provides small, intimate learning environments within the larger building. The team’s environmental strategy includes radiant floor heat within the classroom and other pavilions, supplemented by passive solar heating. Image courtesy Ground Design Studio
A faculty team from the A. Alfred Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning (CAUP) has been selected as one of four finalists in the Chicago Public Schools Design Competition.

The U-M designers are now awaiting the results of the second and final round of the prestigious competition. They are competing against three other architectural firms for the commission to design a $21 million school on Chicago’s south side. More than 115 firms from around the world submitted designs to the open, anonymous category of the juried competition.

The second-stage jury for the competition will announce winners later this month.

The U-M team members are Craig Borum, assistant professor; Karl Daubmann, lecturer; and Olivia Hyde, lecturer and the University’s 2000-2001 Oberdick Fellow. All are Taubman CAUP faculty. The team also includes Mireille Roddier, who teaches design at the University of Detroit-Mercy. These young educators/practitioners formed the collaborative group Ground Design Studio to develop their design for the Chicago Schools’ competition.

Two of the team’s competitors are invited firms, and the third is another finalist in the open competition. Four other architectural firms are competing separately for a school to be built on the north side. The competition is sponsored by the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) and the Chicago-based Business and Professional People for the Public Interest (BPI).

“This is a very significant project and an extraordinary accomplishment for our faculty to have gone so far in the competition,” says Brian Carter, chair of the Architecture Program.

Although construction of the new schools won’t begin until 2004, the Chicago School Improvement Program has been soliciting input and funding for the project since 1996. Through the competition, Big Shoulders, Small Schools, CPS hopes to increase public awareness of the importance of innovative school architecture.

The competition also highlights the educational and architectural principles of universal design and “small schools.”

“The ‘small school’ premise is based on the theory that small works better for learning environments,” says Borum, who also is managing principal of Ply Architecture in Ann Arbor. “Yet, financial restrictions have forced school systems to build large schools for large numbers of students. Our design approaches this problem by gathering three separate ‘small schools’ under one unifying roof and within one skin.”

The school, to be located in the city’s south side neighborhood of Roseland, will accommodate 800 students in kindergarten through eighth grade. The U-M team’s design would provide three distinct units, each for approximately 300 students, within the larger structure. Shared facilities would include a gym, playground, library and multipurpose room.

The universal design component recognizes the varying needs of the school’s population; about 20 percent of the students will have disabilities. “Rather than segregating access by means of features like special ramps for the physically challenged, our single-story structure offers nonsegregated access. The idea is to put everyone on equal footing,” Borum explained.

Ground Design Studio has been developing the design since last September. One of the team’s challenges was to reconcile environmental requirements in its model with those of the “small school” concept. For example, “green” design favors dense, compact buildings, while “small school” design requires enough space to place multiple schools within a school.

To satisfy both the “green” and “small school” movements’ objectives, the team designed the building’s external envelope as a multilayered enclosure. The environmental strategy treats internal rooms as pavilions within the 140,000-square-foot building. Circulation and assembly spaces, which surround pavilions, are heated with passive solar energy and cooled by natural ventilation. The exterior “skin” is composed of aluminum and insulated precast concrete wall panels.

“Environmental issues drove our design scheme from the outset,” Hyde says. “Every classroom has direct access to an enclosed courtyard. We worked with a landscape consultant to select distinctive palettes of plant species that will provide shade in the summer and a seasonal variety of textures and smells.”

All design submissions must provide evidence that they will meet the CPS’ budget for the project. In the first round, judges based evaluations on these criteria: adherence to the principles of universal design and “small schools,” innovation, feasibility, and sensitivity to neighborhood context.

To meet the last requirement, the team members twice visited the site of the future school in Roseland and gathered feedback at community forums. They studied the area’s history and found it had been a major destination for the Underground Railroad.

“We’ve tried to create a design that fits the neighborhood and will serve as a community center as well as a school,” says Borum. “We don’t want to just plop in a foreign object.”

The Ground Design Studio architects entered the competition partly to test ideas they had developed as researchers and instructors in an academic setting. “The competition gave us a real building with which to explore research in environmental systems and design,” Borum notes. “It poses design problems that are very useful as teaching tools, that help us bridge the gap between practice and theory.”

The competition also offers young firms the opportunity to compete for the commission of a large public building—a rare occurrence in this country, he added. “Generally, the first requirement for consideration is that you’ve done one before.”

The BPI plans to use the competition as a model for future school planning and is documenting all design issues and discussions. This information will be compiled as a reference book for other school districts.