2009 Exhibition of School Planning and Architecture Ralph Ellison Campus Chicago, Illinois Lee J. Brockway Award - Renovation High School OWP/P
Ralph Ellison Campus Main Exterior Image
Exterior with Ellison quote Community Environment: A DESIGN PARTII THAT INFLUENCED THE CURRICULUM AND REFLECTS THE COMMUNITY’S HERITAGE The design for this school on Chicago's South Side tells the story of an abandoned, asbestos-ridden structure that became a thriving academic community and source of pride for students and nearby residents. The once elementary school had been vacant for 14 years, a blight on the neighborhood, when the site was purchased for the development of a new high school. Feeling that it was important to reflect the students' and community's rich African American culture, the school was named after the reputable African-American author Ralph Ellison, whose novels and essays were transformative in the realms of literature, history and the African-American identity.
Exterior with students Community Environment: When Ellison wrote Invisible Man in the late 1940’s, he created a protagonist that was at odds with the character of the then leading African-American novelist, Richard Wright. Wright’s characters were the result of an oppressive society while Ellison’s protagonist was sophisticated, educated and self-aware. The design team used the Wright-Ellison metaphor in their design in the context that the older, historic building was likened to Wright’s methodology while the new building represented Ellison’s ideals of intellectual discovery and introspection as the means to freedom.
Library interior Learning Environment: Ninety-eight percent of the 450 students at the school are African American. In seeking to highlight the students' heritage while harping on Ellison's legacy, the design team sandblasted a quote from Invisible Man onto the curtain wall at the front of the building. The quote is large enough to engage the community to become a part of the dialogue within, yet subtle enough to instill a sense of wonderment and curiosity in the students. The quote reads: “I love light. Perhaps you’ll think it strange that an invisible man should need light, desire light, love light. But maybe it is exactly because I am invisible. Light confirms my reality; gives birth to my form.” The entry façade’s variegated composition of glass, mullions and the quote is representative of the diverse tapestry of the neighborhood.
Library interior Learning Environment: The curriculum is college preparatory with an emphasis on "topics relevant to urban students." The school day is 7½ hours (longer than the majority of Chicago Public Schools), and the school year lasts from August to June, as it has been proven that student success correlates strongly with the amount of time spent in the classroom. The school held an opening ceremony on August 16th. The architects who attended were pleased to learn of the design parti's impact on the curriculum.
Lab classroom interior Physical Environment Many of the existing walls, wood floors, wood trim and terrazzo were retained. The classrooms had large window openings, but 2/3 of the glazing was translucent and 1/3 was opaque. The new windows are thermally insulated and clear, bringing natural daylight into the classrooms, which increases student concentration and comfort. This also allows instructors to use less artificial lighting. This adds to the R-value of the exterior envelope and allows instructors to use less artificial lighting. Insulation was added to the exterior masonry walls. The mechanical systems were replaced with modern, efficient equipment.
Locker bays Physical Environment The design team was faced with the challenge of transforming an elementary into a building that was suitable for high school students. The following illustrate innovative design solutions. – Instead of designing rows of narrow lockers, they were clustered in bays at the ends of the corridors. The corridors allow for flexible, sociable and personal learning spaces—demonstrating that learning happens everywhere, not just within the walls of the classroom. – The front elevation of the addition is a glass curtain wall sandblasted with a quote from Ralph Ellison, the school's namesake. The text is visible both from the interior library and science spaces and from the exterior to passersby and the community. The north-facing orientation captures the highest quality of light.
Exterior day Planning Process: The most challenging aspect of the project was convincing the surrounding community that the school would be an asset for their neighborhood. Local residents felt that they weren't properly informed when the land was purchased for the new school. 25 community members formed an advisory committee that monitored the school’s presence and presented their view. The design team addressed the community's concerns by meeting with the committee and giving project milestone updates while considering their input in the building’s design. The advisory committee was very involved with the large mural on the gym’s exterior, and the committee reviewed artist and student concepts. The gymnasium building was named for the neighborhood, and the name was prominently carved into the stone panels at the entry.
Classroom interior Planning Process: Concerned residents were worried about such things as traffic on an already busy corner, less parking, community safety and trash removal. The design team addressed each of these concerns: they incorporated extra lighting and cameras for security into the design, they designed a secure parking area, and the school arranged for garbage to be compacted and disposed of on a daily basis. Residents were also concerned that the charter school would be bussing in students from other neighborhoods while their own children might not be admitted. The advisory committee worked with school officials to implement an attendance boundary for the school, giving priority to students who live within a certain proximity.
Supporting/Supplemental flies/Images Imagery Credits: Design – OWP/P Photography – James Steinkamp