Thursday, November 21, 2013

Ronan's Stackables: Erie Elementary Charter School's new addition

click images for larger view
Last Thursday marked the neighborhood open house for a new addition to the Erie Elementary Charter School designed by John Ronan Architects.  The school was founded in 2005 as part of former Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley's Renaissance 2010 project to create 100  new schools.  It's run by the Erie Neighborhood House, a social service agency founded in 1870 to serve what was then the neighborhood's Ukrainian immigrant community.

Erie Elementary Charter opened in 2005 with 80 students in the century-old St. Mark's school building, about half a mile to the south.  In 2010, it moved to its present location at 1405 North Washtenaw.  That building dates back to 1960, when, with 21 classrooms and a 1,000 student capacity, it was constructed as a school for St. Fidelis Church across the street, which had been serving Humboldt Park's blue collar Polish Catholics since its opening in 1926.  In 1960's, the neighborhood began its transition to a Latino community.  Attendance declined, and after structural issues arose with the church building, it was demolished in 1968.  It's still a parking lot today.  Mass was moved to the cafeteria of the school, until  church and school were closed in 2006 and merged with St. Aloysius Parish.
image: Google Earth
An apartment building on the corner site just south of the school was demolished to make way for Erie Elementary's new 16,000 square-foot addition, built with $12 million of funding from the Illinois Jobs Now! program.  Ground was broken in April of last year, and construction completed in about a year and a half.  Ronan's new building packs a lot of program into a constrained site, and is expected to help support an increase in the school's capacity to 400 students. from Kindergarten to 8th grade.

St. Fidelis Elementary brought a bracing contrast of International Style modernism to its Humboldt Park neighborhood.  Fifty years later, it hasn't had much influence on the neighborhood.  Here and there, you'll new construction in a modern idiom . . .
 . . . but the historic traditionally-styled architecture has proven both resilient and inviting, especially when it's rehabbed and spruced up with a new coat of paint. . .
Now Ronan's more contemporary kind of contrast has nestled its way into this historic working-class community.  In the words of the architects, the exterior's pre-cast concrete panels, with a ground and polished finish, are “stacked like blocks to lend a playful character to this elementary school addition in Chicago that responds to the owner’s modest budget, . . . transforms an otherwise commonplace building component, and offers the institution a simple yet noble character.”
The carefully considered geometrics extend even to the alley entrance . . .
The playfulness of those “stacked blocks” also manage to play fast and loose with what the exterior seems to represent.  It reads as a double-height ground floor, topped by second and third floors and a cornice.
In the interior layout, however, the only double-height component of the ground floor is the reception area . . .
Image courtesy of John Ronan Architects
. . . surrounded by two floors of spaces.  On the first floor, there's a computer lab and an adult education/ large conference room.  On the second floor, a library . . .
Image courtesy of John Ronan Architects
. . . after school lounge, play and conference rooms.  What reads on outside as the second and third floors is, in fact, a double-height gymnasium . . .
Image courtesy of John Ronan Architects
. . . with a rooftop play area at the fourth level . . .
As you can see in these illustrations, one of the great things about Ronan's addition is the way those supersized-windows and rooftop openings bring the historic architecture of the surrounding neighborhood into the very contemporary interiors.  Outside and in, abstracted modern meets ornament-rich tradition to create a bracing, contrapuntal urban fabric interweaving the physical expression of successive moments in time.

2 comments:

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