GEMS World Academy-Chicago, an international private institution, established their first U.S. school in downtown Chicago.
The 83,000 s.f. Lower School is home to elementary students within 10-stories on a slim and challenging site. Juxtaposed against an adjacent park, the playful exterior is a modernist composition of interlacing gray and primary colored panels and glass. The arrangement expresses the internal configuration of spaces and facilitated fast-paced construction.
Due to its constrained 9,500 s.f. site, GEMS was unable to support a traditional drop off and pick up area. To address this challenge, collaboration with a neighboring building owner enabled GEMS to take advantage of the first level of an adjacent parking garage for a protected drop off that also limits traffic from entering the narrow ring road.
The complex site section, circulation, optimized floor plan and flexibility drove the design. Common areas of the school are stacked centrally to promote use of the stairwells and reduce travel times. With barriers to natural light on three sides of the building’s base, single-loaded corridors set the planning direction for the facility to maximize daylight throughout. A protected outdoor rooftop playground caps the school and provides students with stunning views.
GEMS integrates district cooling, which reduces the school’s mechanical space requirements. High-performance glass and insulated metal panels limit thermal heat gain, while providing a cohesive exterior design and an abundance of natural light. Low-flow plumbing fixtures and water-efficient landscaping limit water consumption while multi-level green roofs reduce the building’s heat island effect.