Chicago’s premier French school is running out the lease on its building in the Buena Park neighborhood, and plans to move into a new location on the site of the old Ravenswood Hospital before the 2015–2016 school year. The new facilities will be built in phases, as fundraising allows, but first up in a master plan by local architecture firm STL will be 86,000 square feet of classrooms and the typical educational amenities such as a gym and library. Soon to follow will be an auditorium—something architect Luis Collado said is lacking in the current building. “The only place the school comes together in one place is in the auditorium,” he said. “You never feel that you are in one school. Our design completely changes that.”
The new building’s 12 stories stratify the K-12 school by grade level, using bright color coding in walls, furniture, and detailing to identify shared and public spaces. Architect Jose Luis de la Fuente said a large atrium unites the floors, acting as the “heart” of the building, “the social infrastructure that kind of allows everyone to connect to each other.”
Color coding informs the double-skin facade as well. The bright red portals that ring the facade’s variously sized square windows are the most obvious element of an abstracted color scheme that recalls the colors of the French flag. White detailing on the perforated screen and flashes of blue on the metallic inner envelope complete the subtle pattern.
While a fence encloses the school’s three-quarter sized soccer field and outdoor areas, Collado said community engagement was a key goal for the Lycée. STL made the gym and auditorium accessible separately from the academic spaces, allowing it to stay open for neighborhood events after hours. He said the school is also exploring ways to manage public access to the playground and soccer field.
The amount of space tucked behind the 12-story volume on Wilson Avenue will bea surprisingly large, its designers said. That helps Lycée open up, even on a dense urban site. “They want to create citizens of the world,” said Collado. “The idea of really having a campus is something they haven’t had before.”