Fostering natural curiosity

Tuesday 15 Oct 2013

Laboratory Schools opens Earl Shapiro Hall in Chicago, an innovative new building designed for young learners

Earl Shapiro Hall in Chicago is a soaring, light-filled structure at 5800 S. Stony Island Ave., designed by Valerio Dewalt Train and FGM Architects as the architect-of-record. The complex will provide education services for young children and has already attracted notice for its graceful architecture.

The new building plays a key role in the Lab expansion that will unfold over the next decade or so to roughly 2,000 students, which will accommodate growing demand from the University community while maintaining the school's historic diversity, serving students from across the city of Chicago.

The state-of-the-art facility brings together the school's nursery, kindergarten and primary grades. It capitalises on children's natural curiosity with thought-provoking spaces suited for a range of simultaneous activities. There are also a large number of great glass walls, an early favourite of the children who use the building.

"They love being able to see what's going on in different parts of the building," Lab kindergarten teacher Delores Rita said. When her students go upstairs for gym or music, she said, they are captivated by the bird's-eye view of the inner courtyard where other children are playing. "Getting that different perspective of looking at things is fascinating to them. The other day we actually just stood there and watched the kids for a while, talking about how they looked smaller and different from up above."

Along with the inner courtyard, there is an expansive rooftop playground where play equipment will be installed; a smaller rooftop playground on the second floor that will include a climbing wall; and landscaped playgrounds on the north and west sides of the building that include age-appropriate play equipment. The school also installed a crosswalk to Jackson Park across the street, and students and teachers are making good use of this open parkland.

Access to the outdoors supports the school's early childhood program, Young said, by enhancing children's inherent interest in weather, plants and animals. It makes them aware of the changing amount of light and the movement of the clouds and trees, for example, and what they can learn from nature.

Earl Shapiro Hall's open spaces, along with bringing the younger grades all together, are also helping foster a sense of community among students and faculty, said Primary School Principal Susan Devetski. "Even though the building is larger and we have much more space, it feels like we are closer together now," Devetski said, adding that gathering in one building will promote more collaboration and exchange of ideas.

The building is named for Earl Shapiro, who graduated from Lab in 1956. In 2008, members of the Shapiro family - Earl, his wife, Brenda, and their three children, Alexandra, Benjamin and Matthew, all of whom attended Lab-made a $10m gift to the Laboratory Schools, citing its talented and diverse students, outstanding teachers, and a focus on critical learning.

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