Construction Update
Design of bKL’s Second GEMS Academy Building Gets Refined

It looks like it’s full steam ahead for the second GEMS Academy school in Lakeshore East.  As soon as Old Man Winter gives us a break.

The building planned for 355 East Wacker Drive, now going by the name GEMS World Academy Chicago Middle-Upper School, already has its caissons in place under the lakefront loam.  Word is that foundation permits are expected to be issued within the next two weeks.  Then, once winter abates a little bit, hard-core concrete work can begin.

bKL Architecture, the boffins behind the design, have produced new renderings of the building which show some interesting details.

Rendering of the new GEMS World Academy Chicago Middle-Upper School (Courtesy of bKL Architecture)

Rendering of the new GEMS World Academy Chicago Middle-Upper School (Courtesy of bKL Architecture)

Thomas Kerwin, Founding Principal at bKL, has been the guiding hand for both buildings.

The GEMS Lower School building has received numerous awards and recognition.

Even though the first building is still a recent addition to the educational building landscape, GEMS and bKL are not resting on the success of that project alone.

We are working to ensure that the new Middle/Upper School embodies state-of-the-art and forward-thinking learning environments. This, combined with such a prominent site, should make this new school a very special place.

Rendering of the new GEMS building, showing the stairway to Lower Wacker, and the bridge to the front entrance. (Courtesy of bKL Architecture)

Rendering of the new GEMS building, showing the stairway to Lower Wacker, and the bridge to the front entrance. (Courtesy of bKL Architecture)

Immediately noticeable is that the building has been pulled back from the Wacker Drive lot line a little bit.  The grand entrance remains as tall and airy as ever, but instead of a simple set of stairs to ascend into the lobby, students will cross what appears to be a small bridge.

Rendering of the new GEMS building, showing the building setback from Wacker Drive (Courtesy of bKL Architecture)

Rendering of the new GEMS building, showing the building setback from Wacker Drive (Courtesy of bKL Architecture)

That happens because with the building pulled back, bKL didn’t just deck over the empty space.  It’s  actually open to the ground below, and surrounded by a glass railing.  On the right side of the building, a ramp has been slotted in to the newly empty space.

The void also allows the viewer to see more of the building’s signature color panel facade.  Unlike neighboring buildings like the Swissotel, it appears the new GEMS building will continue its colorful contribution all the way down to the ground, instead of presenting people on the lower levels of Wacker Drive with a blank concrete wall, or ventilation outlets, or both.  It’s about as neighborhood-friendly as it can be.

Rendering of the new GEMS World Academy Chicago Middle-Upper School (Courtesy of bKL Architecture)

Rendering of the new GEMS World Academy Chicago Middle-Upper School (Courtesy of bKL Architecture)

The new renderings also show off the outdoor rooftop common area, complete with trees.  Lots of schools in Chicago have rooftop space for the students.  None have this view of Navy Pier, the Streeterville skyline, and the Chicago River.  It’s the same view that people splash out a million dollars on to see from their condos.  It’s also a perfect launching pad for a mischievous middle-school paper airplane derby.  In the words of Robin Baumgarten, “I’m not sayin’.  I’m just sayin’.”

Rendering of the new GEMS building roof with new sign. (Courtesy of bKL Architecture)

Rendering of the new GEMS building roof with new sign. (Courtesy of bKL Architecture)

Location: 355 East Wacker Drive, The Loop

Editor

Author: Editor

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

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