CPS Competition

CPS Competition in Chicago, Illinois by Koning Eizenberg Architecture, 2001

Titled Big Shoulders...Small Schools, the recent Chicago Public School's Design Competition asked the entrants to focus on two issues: small school size and accessibility. Winner of the North-side site (New York City's Marble Fairbanks winning for the South-side site), Santa Monica, California's Koning Eizenberg Architecture responds to these issues with a coherent, yet informal design that also relates to, and strengthens, its surroundings.

With the site split into two parcels on opposite sides of a residential/commercial street the architects placed the early childhood center on the smaller, more appropriate, parcel. The larger site available for the K-8 school, classrooms are grouped in clusters to create a smaller, neighborhood environment, reminiscent of the famous Crow Island School in Chicago's north suburbs. The zig-zag roof became the unifying element, the intention to "link rather than compartmentalize", while creating areas to allow natural light and signal program spaces.

Koning Eizenberg's scheme deals with accessibility by keeping the programmatic elements on one level, a gesture that works but is ultimately anti-urban and only possible due to Chicago Public School's site selection. Future schools would most likely be limited to smaller sites and require vertical designs, rendering this winning design as a singular entity unable to act as a precedent. This shortcoming does not detract from the architect's design which successfully melds inside and outside through the roof form and creates an intimate scale appropriate for its use.

This design responds directly to the two issues: small school size through neighborhood clusters and accessibility through the single-level approach. While the school is able to accommodate 800 students without seeming overwhelming one test of the school's success will be its ability to keep class sizes small, an important, recent consideration to educators and politicians alike. More tests will follow the same lines: the ability of design to both adapt and deal with changing educational ideas. Not an unfair proposition as architecture, evident here, should embrace the possibility of making ideas tangible.