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Sparkling Intellects
GEMS School to burnish life at Chicago's Lakeshore East.
Courtesy bKL Architecture

GEMS Education, the Dubai-based private school giant, has chosen Chicago as its entry point to the United States. And the face of their arrival will be a school in Lake Shore East designed by bKL Architecture.

“GEMS uses design and architecture as a way to distinguish themselves, which is exciting to us,” said bKL principal Thomas Kerwin. The school will be built in two phases: First, a 9-story building for kindergarten through fourth grade situated on Lake Shore East Park. As the first class of students grows up, they will move into the phase-two building—a 12-story facility for grades five through twelve that faces Wacker Drive.

“One great aspect of the site is the multilevel road system on Wacker Drive and the fact that you can separate drop-off from the upper-level traffic,” Kerwin said.

Phase two of the GEMS school (left) and the lobby (right).

The massing of bKL’s design mirrors the size of the students within each building. But the larger phase-two building also presents new problems: namely, how to deal with kids moving through a high-rise. bKL studied circulation patterns to determine how many elevators and stairs the building would need, careful to lighten the vertical transportation load during peak hours.

Both buildings feature light-filled lobbies and cafeterias, as well as striking views of the lake and downtown Chicago. A skin of opaque material and glass interwoven to vary the amount of daylight depending each room’s function will keep classrooms more shielded from sunlight than common areas. Exterior renderings show the facade with a blue and red line pattern, but Kerwin said the firm is “still investigating” color schemes.

A radio studio, competition-sized swimming pool, and studios for dance, art, and music are among the facility’s accommodations.

Christopher Bentley