Founded by John Dewey in 1886, the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools have been a successful and evolving experiment in an educational model that prioritises the learning environment as teacher. In 2007, the Schools embarked on one of their most ambitious and far-reaching expansions to date.
Comprising two new major buildings—an early childhood center and an arts wing—and extensive top-to-bottom renovations throughout the existing nine-building campus, the expansion will fundamentally enhance the Schools’ ability to realise a child-focused, educational vision.
The first project scheduled to begin construction is the Early Childhood Center (ECC). This 128,000 sq ft facility will include 34 classrooms on two levels as well as a third-level library, gymnasium, and enclosed outdoor play area. Originally planned for a vacant site on the Lab Schools’ existing campus, the ECC was moved to a superior off-campus site located across from Chicago’s Jackson Park and the Museum of Science and Industry (MSI).
The location’s proximity to the lakefront, the park, and the MSI, a major cultural institution is a prime advantage to the ECC. As the first physical link between the University of Chicago and the MSI, the ECC establishes an important dialogue between two of Hyde Park’s most significant institutions. The original site, now a play area, will remain open for student recreation on the main campus.
Because of its off-campus location, the new ECC will have all of the programmatic elements of a freestanding school building. In addition to classrooms, art and music rooms, a library, and a gymnasium, the building will house full administrative and counselling offices, food service, and learning labs. One end of the glazed third-floor library cantilevers over the entry plaza, offering views to Lake Michigan and the MSI.
Among the building’s innovations is the incorporation of outdoor space and learning labs with classrooms, enabling students to move fluidly between academic and physical activities. The ground floor contains nursery school and kindergarten classrooms, each with easy access to its own outdoor play space as well as to a shared courtyard and learning lab at the building’s center. The second floor houses first and second grade classrooms and a green roof play area that blends live plantings and artificial turf.