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Bonjour Les Enfants
Krueck + Sexton's French Academy moves forward in Chicago.
Courtesy Krueck + Sexton

Krueck + Sexton are known for refined cultural, civic, and residential projects, but they’ve never designed a school before. So when they competed for the chance to design a new building for the Lycée Francais de Chicago, the Windy City’s branch of the famous international school, they teamed with another small firm with educational experience under their belt—STL Architects. The pair of firms had the right combination of experience and open-mindedness for the $33 million commission.

“It’s a private school that really wanted an innovative building that fit their needs,” principal Mark Sexton said. “They wanted to embody their international educational model while also conveying an idea of Frenchness.” Kreuck + Sexton interpreted those ideas through a simple design that emphasizes openness and transparency while also providing an atmosphere of safety, especially for pre-kindergarten children.

The winning team bested three larger teams, and, in conjunction with fundraising efforts for the project, the design is now taking shape. The preschool through high school will eventually house about 700 students, ranging in age from three to 18 years old. A two-story building will hug the property line with pre-schoolers located on the ground floor. An enclosed courtyard with a Hoerr Schaupt-designed landscape will provide play space for the youngest students. “We worried that the little kids might create too much noise in an enclosed courtyard,” Sexton said. “But based on the research we’ve done, it will sound a lot like birds chirping.”

A detail of the building's entrance (left). Hoerr Schaupt designed the enclosed courtyard (right).

Each school—elementary, middle, and high—are stacked in the floors of the short tower above. The tower is wrapped in a metal screen, which Sexton calls a “veil,” to provide a degree of privacy and enclosure for the fully glazed volume. This arrangement created a clear hierarchy for the students. It also leaves space for a soccer field, which is “central to the school’s international identity,” according to Sexton.

The Lycée will have 39 small classrooms, designed to hold a maximum of 22 students. “It’s really about intimate spaces and the feeling of connections, both within the school community and out to the landscape and recreation areas,” he said.

Given the project’s tight budget, materials will be simple: corrugated metal, masonry blocks, glass, and steel. “They like to use the term ‘frugal,’ which we think has an appropriate and positive connotation,” he said. “It makes us think of the early modernists.” The firm plans to elevate the commonplace materials and simple spaces through precise detailing.

The Lycée recently purchased the property, four acres of the old Ravenswood Hospital site, but fundraising for construction is ongoing. School officials hope the building will open in fall 2015.

Alan G. Brake