The Closed School Effect
After the exhibition at the Chicago Architecture Foundation, I had the opportunity to kick start this research and creative platform CREATIVE GROUND at Archeworks working with students from Monterrey Tech University (Queretaro's Campus): Nidia Vázquez, Cecilia Ruiz y Nancy Jiménez. We studied one of the schools sites that had been closed as part of the 2013 schools closings in Chicago – John. B Drake Elementary School in Bronzeville.
The study explored three different driving programs to repurpose the site by positioning and leveraging its location along Martin Luther King Blvd. The first idea looked at botanical gardens – proximity to the Lakefront is strategic, and also the proximity to other schools that could be active participants in environmental education programs. Additionally, Chicago has two major Conservatories: Lincoln Park to the North, and Garfield Park to the West. This location in Bronzeville would be equidistant from the Loop, and will offered a year-round amenity to the community. The second idea looked into urban agriculture – this area of the neighborhood has a significant amount of vacant land due to demolition of large-scale projects (pubic housing in South Commons and Michael Reese Hospital). Under similar circumstances in other neighborhoods, organizations have started urban farms and community gardens to activate the vacant land and create community. Drake is located next to an emerging urban farm site that could provide that expertise while enabling community connections, and providing access to healthy affordable food. The third option looked at an outdoor/indoor cultural center building in the legacy and history of the neighborhood and the MLK corridor.
This school site is a 60,000 square-feet building defined by modern architecture – built in the 1960s. During this study, we learned that the Electricians Union had bought the building for 1.5 million dollars from the City of Chicago. We started to think about the implications of the transformation of a building that use to be a place of knowledge, of youth, and education, into a space of politics and labor representation. What connections could be created? What else can an union organization do for its community?What interactions could be fostered? What partnerships could be created?
Thank you to all my colleagues who generously participated in this discussion and provided us with their valuable insights:
Alejandra Royo, Urban Designer, SOM
Ann Lui, Assistant Professor SAIC, Co-founder Future Firm
Andrew Balster, Executive Director, Archeworks
Dawveed Scully, Urban Designer, SOM
Mejay Gula, Building Strategist & Construction Manager, Place Lab, University of Chicago
Tempestt Hazel, Independent Curator, Co-Founder Six Inches from Center
Thomas Hussey, Director of City Design Practice, SOM