Arts-focused high school uplifts underserved community, promotes diversity, and pays tribute to nearby airport
John Hancock College Preparatory High School forms a community nucleus within Chicago’s Clearing neighborhood. It enables its students (94% Hispanic, 82% from economically disadvantaged families) to ascend from a 1950s-era building to a campus that prioritizes learning and community connections. The facility also introduces Chicago Public Schools’ flagship black box theater. The design of the 178,000-square-foot facility acoustically and aesthetically responds to the Chicago Midway International Airport just three blocks away.
The design concept of “uplift” infuses the building from the courtyard’s runway-inspired geometry to the acute angles in the architectural forms. Windows and glazing take cues from airplane noise and reverberation. The blue/green glazed brick of the black box theater, for instance, represents low- and high-frequency sound waves and communicates the activity within the school.
The complex also uplifts the surrounding community by providing amenities such as the theater, a full-size auditorium, and a two-position gymnasium to be shared with the neighborhood and maintain a year-round community center. Clearly defined pathways across the site and through the building create nodes for dynamic discourse and engagement between the school and community.
Another design challenge involved creating a college-like campus for Hancock learners to interact with students at Grimes Elementary School immediately to the north. Engaging outdoor areas serve as gathering and activity space for the neighborhood and as an extension to the neighboring school.
The building uses 30% less energy than a comparable baseline. The roof also applies a layer of concrete and two types of insulation to modulate aircraft noise. Additionally, exterior glazing reduces outside noise — glazing accounts for less than 28% of the overall envelope and includes a laminated interlayer to minimize noise intrusion.
The project encouraged inclusion, from gathering community input to building a diverse design and construction team. Despite several construction site COVID-19 outbreaks, the project finished on time and within budget. Design-build team: Legat Architects, UrbanWorks, K.R. Miller Contractors, ALL Masonry Construction Co.
Best Project, K-12 Education, ENR Midwest
Excellence in Community Engagement Award, Chicagoland Associated General Contractors
Exhibition of Educational Environments, Illinois Association of School Boards
Outstanding Project Award, Learning By Design
Project of the Year Award, Hispanic American Construction Industry Association
Silver Award, Association of Licensed Architects
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