Construction Update
GEMS Second Building in Lakeshore East Gets Cut in Half

It’s hard to find anyone who doesn’t like the GEMS Academy’s current schoolhouse on East South Water Street for grades one through four.  The bKL-designed institution fits in well with its neighboring buildings, actively respects the highly-curated slice of nature across the street, and fills in an infrastructure gap that was open for too long.

GEMS World Academy Chicago logoAs we reported back in July, construction is underway on the second GEMS building at Lakeshore East.  This time facing East Upper Wacker Drive, it was originally supposed to educate children in grades five through 12 in a larger, 13-story building.  But that’s no longer the case.

GEMS has asked the city, and the city has given its nod, to a new plan for the building.  A much smaller plan.  A plan that reduces the second school building from 250,000 square feet to 115,962 square feet — a reduction of more than half.

The reason for the change is beyond the scope of what we do here.  But we can tell you that the building now being put up by Power Construction will have just eight floors, instead of the originally planned 13.  For those of you with really long tape measures, it’s gone from 206 feet, nine inches to 117 feet, nine inches.    You can see the visual difference in the image below.

GEMS Academy Chicago Upper School renderings

Note that “eight stories” means eight stories above East Upper Wacker Drive.  Not eight stories above dirt.  The four stories between Upper Wacker and the actual ground will remain the domain of automobiles: 126 parking spaces, plus pick-up and drop-off areas for the kids.

Things have have been removed from the new school include the mid-level balcony that was going to provide a wonderful way to look over the Chicago River and the city’s north side.  Also, there was apparently a portion of the original school plan that involved cantilevering the third and fourth floors over a neighboring property.  We don’t remember seeing anything like that in the previous renderings, but it doesn’t matter anyway, since according to city documents, that has been scotched.


Location: 355 East Wacker Drive, The Loop

Author: Editor

Editor founded the Chicago Architecture Blog in 2003, after a long career in journalism. He can be reached at

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