Text description provided by the architects. The new Taft Freshman Academy is bound by the rich and complex history of the site as well as by the programmatic and functional aspirations of the Chicago Public Schools. The 150,000 SF masonry-clad school for 1,350 students includes twenty-two classrooms, science labs, computer labs, art, and music suites, a gymnasium/auditorium, as well as various health and fitness-related rooms. The school has been programmatically conceived with two distinct wings in mind which interact volumetrically to give the building its unique character. The east wing holds the common elements of the program such as the gymnasium/auditorium and cafeteria, and the west wing hosts all of the academic functions and required support and administrative spaces.
The two wings converge at ground level in a double-story glass space that acts simultaneously as a programmatic link, a pre-function space for the gymnasium/auditorium and the cafeteria, and as the main entry to the school. The building’s two wings are geometrically arranged on the site in order to create two large exterior entry plazas. The North Plaza is arrival and initial welcoming space. The plaza has been designed to greet visitors and encourage students to funnel into the ample interior lobby area.
The South Plaza, which is open to the sports field facilities of the school, was designed to be the social heart of the school. The plaza has a distinct and different character as it is intended to be more static in nature, offering numerous sitting and gathering opportunities for students and teachers to enjoy. Due to the simplicity of the project’s volumetric approach, which was in large part dictated by program arrangement, budgetary constraints as well as site-specific considerations, special attention to the design of the exterior facade’s expression of the building became paramount.
We aimed to express a continuous and textured exterior wall that could provide the building with its unique character and expressive elegance. The use of bricks of different colors allowed us to highlight the band of windows on the upper and lower levels while utilizing projecting brick banding along the horizontal ring of windows contributed to manifest the horizontal and continuous nature of the façade thanks to the shadows cast between the different bricklayers.
A colorful, vibrant array of window trims placed at selected locations, provided the building with a colorful counterpoint to the inherent sobriety of the brick masonry wall. Overall, the new Taft Academy enhances the overall development of the neighborhood by providing hierarchy and order to what, for years, had largely been an empty, unorganized, and depleted site.
The project success in the neighborhood rests on three key organizational achievements. First, the design provided a much-needed alternative traffic circulation strategy for the area. Secondly, the project re-framed the Read Dunning neighborhood providing a new, elegant visual backdrop from both, Irving Park and Oak Park Avenue. Lastly, it anchored the north portion of the site, re-articulating the light industrial building area along Normandy street.