Not many educators would look at a shuttered lumberyard on Chicago’s Northwest Side and declare it the perfect place for a new school. The original 41,000-square-foot open structure provided the perfect opportunity to transform into an innovative space and support the Blended Learning curriculum. Instead of traditional classrooms, it features oversized teaching spaces called “pods” that foster the personalized instruction to which the school is committed. Half of each tandem pod focuses on humanities instruction while the other targets science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Three teachers rotate students through learning stations, offering targeted instruction, support for independent work, and facilitation of Socratic discussion and project-based learning.
Intrinsic's design adapted and reused 75 percent of the existing lumberyard structures, all originally bowstring truss buildings. It includes an open-air shed that is more than 40 feet tall — built in 1954 with solid wood columns cut from trees hand-selected in the Pacific Northwest — and two buildings from 1911 and 1928. The bowstring truss, an early 20th-century long-span structural support, provided the wide, column-free interior spaces that are perfect for Intrinsic’s needs.
Each learning station in the pod includes easily identifiable elements to guide students. The “coastline,” for example, features adaptable-height desks arranged around the perimeter of the pod; here, students work independently on Chromebooks, using adaptive software that incorporates real-time monitoring. In the middle section of the pod, 12 rolling desks allow for collaborative learning in small groups. The “exchange” is a two-sided central table where teachers can supervise activities, answer questions, or conduct mini-lessons. Finally, each half of the pod includes an acoustically separate seminar room or science lab that holds 30 students for more traditional instruction.
Environmentally progressive materials and design features are apparent in the remodeled building. A spray foam roof covering the old premises was an eco-friendly alternative to removing the existing roofing material that otherwise would have been destined for the landfill. New high-performance skylights diffuse natural light into the pods while maximizing insulation. Economic efficiencies are likewise evident, as the Belmont Cragin, Hermosa, Portage Park, and surrounding neighborhoods benefit from the use of Intrinsic’s artificial turf playing field and the opportunity to lease the multipurpose gym inside the building.
General contractor: Clune Construction Landscape architecture: Wolff Landscape Architects Structural engineer: Enspect Engineering Photography: Steve Hall and Hedrich Blessing