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Intrinsic School Downtown Campus

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Vibrant learning environment in a downtown high-rise.

At Intrinsic School’s new downtown campus, learning extends beyond the classroom walls and includes partnerships with nearby businesses and cultural institutions, weaving the vibrant downtown fabric into the school’s ethos.

The new high-school spans 5-floors in one of Chicago’s oldest high-rise buildings located in the heart of the city. Originally completed in 1906, the Rector Building, best known as the Bell Federal Building, has had many modifications over the years – including a major addition in 1924 and its centralized location makes it a perfect fit for this non-traditional school and its intentionally diverse student population. In the first year alone, students have come from over 40 different neighborhoods, enabled by the expansive public transportation options surrounding the school.

Converting a former office building into school-use faces many complex challenges. The interior buildout was designed and constructed in three-phases, carefully coordinating around existing tenants and school-year opening deadlines. Significant fire-rating, egress, and building issues were corrected and brought up to school codes, and historic features—such as the existing clay tile ceilings—were revealed and celebrated.

Students enter a secure, dedicated entrance at the street level, with both stairs and an elevator leading to the school’s main lobby on the second-floor. Here, students check-in, gather before class, and navigate to their different classes using a new centralized staircase. This dedicated stair connects all school levels. On each floor, glass partition walls and clerestory windows are used to bring as much daylight through the building as possible.

Building upon the successes of Intrinsic’s flagship Blended Learning campus on Chicago’s Northwest side, the Downtown Campus design reinforces the school’s unique 21st-century learning styles and adapts them to fit a completely different context in a downtown high-rise structure. In a blended model, teacher-led instruction is supplemented by individualized software-based learning, and large, customizable learning environments on each floor called “Pods” are populated by a variety of distinct zones, each of which is tailored to a specific style of learning.

The design of the open area of each Pod provides for a rotation of different modes of learning. A “coastline” of individual desks, furnished in both standing and sitting heights, provides a place for personalized online learning where students learn at their own pace. “Exchange Tables,” situated in the middle of the Pods host peer-to-peer learning. Two “pop- up class” areas provide teachers a place where they can remediate a common misunderstanding or reinforce a newly learned concept with up to 12 students. Additionally, small huddle rooms and seminar classrooms are designed for specialized instruction, including space for local partners to meet inside the school.

Leveraging existing city transportation networks allows the school to offer these unique and tailored learning opportunities to all Chicago students. Steps from Chicago’s financial, civic, and cultural centers, Intrinsic’s Downtown Campus showcases the city’s vibrancy and history while creating unique learning spaces for the next generation of leaders.

Construction Manager: Bulley & Andrews
Structural Engineer: Thornton Tomasetti
MEP/FP Engineer: McGuire Engineers.
Acoustic Consultant: Kirkegaard
Kitchen Consultant: Edge Associates
Owner’s Rep: IPM Consulting, Ltd.
Photography: Tom Harris Architectural Photography and Kendall McCaugherty, Hall + Merrick Photographers