AT URBAN UNIVERSITY CHARTER SCHOOL
The goal was to create something unique, vibrant and inspirational for students in a culture of high academic achievement, with flexible spaces and room to grow, all while being fiscally responsible.
Dedicated to educating students on Chicago’s southside, the owner wanted to make a strong statement with the Woodlawn Campus on 63rd Street via a unique building façade.
The University of Chicago Charter School had been leasing an old Chicago public school elementary building to operate its successful 6th through 12th grade program. The facility physically lacked the types of spaces the middle and high school program required, so construction of a new building on the adjacent 3.5 acres commenced. The school boasts a 100% college matriculation rate, making a college resource center a must have for the new school. There is also a media arts space, as well as science and engineering labs, state-of-the-art classroom technology and spaces for athletics and performance.
Inspiration for the exterior brick design is West African woven textiles with patterns overlaying other patterns. Brick has an inherent pattern and rhythm to it, making it a perfect material to meet the design intent, while meeting the University’s standard for quality and longevity. Protruding brick provide a textural quality and perforated walls allow for light play on both inside and outside of the school throughout the day.
The predominant field brick is a light grey from Acme Brick, with ebony Sioux City brick used as the protruding brick and for other accent. Each elevation is different, with patterns changing as the eye travels across the building, creating an illusion of movement. The college resource center is located right inside the main entrance, a reminder of the next step toward which students are working.
Brickwork on the exterior of the center is the most intricate. Perforated walls overlaying windows give a unique perception. “At that focal point, the brick is very much part of the experience,” says EC Purdy & Associates Architect David Schalk.
Exterior patterning acknowledges various purposes of spaces on the interior. For example, the wing housing the gymnasium uses utility size ebony brick as the field brick representing that area’s different function.
Planes of walls are set at different angles. Schalk explains, “We wanted enough of an angle that it could be perceived by passersby, but not enough to be disruptive.”
Masonry Experts Share Knowledge
Working with a very tight budget, attention to the cost of the pattern, and every little change to the pattern, mattered.
Having attended many Masonry Mondays and other International Masonry Institute seminars and events, EC Purdy reached out to IMI, Masonry Advisory Council and brick supplier Illinois Brick during the schematic design phase for advice on product availability, costing, schedule and constructability, specifically as they related to patterning and detailing.
“We wanted to be as conventional as possible in wall section and assembly methods. It was only the patterning that is unconventional,” says Schalk.
Davies Toews Architecture created the brick façade, a process that began with many sample boards and ended with a CAD file that identified every brick, with coursing laid out taking advantage of brick’s modularity. Attention at corners, window sills and heads minimized the need for cutting units and other potential disruption to the patterning. Masons ensured pattern accuracy by spray painting the pattern on the rigid board insulation behind the brick to use as a guide while laying the wall.
As for constructability, Jonathan Toews, AIA, partner at Davies Toews, explains an architect’s appreciation for the flexibilities designing with brick provides, which is so well illustrated in this project: “The flexibility of building with units and scaling up to entire walls is analogous to students as individuals or as a school population. You can see one brick or whole patterns.”
Gary Porter, executive director of the Masonry Advisory Council and former mason contractor, knows his craft. He explains, “the protruding brick should be solid. If no solid brick are available, it would be best to limit the projection to half the distance from the face of the projecting brick to the cores of the brick. Also important would be for the brick manufacturer to provide a finished face on each plane that will be exposed. A must for durability.”