Architects have their say

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Four Chicago architects with school design experience comment on Chicago’s prototype schools. They asked not to be identified.

“The architects you mention are highly qualified and respected in the city, but one question is, What’s going to happen in the year 2020 or 2030, when the school-age population declines? What are we going to do with these buildings? It would be nice if the Chicago public schools or some other large system had the resources to take it upon themselves to ask that kind of question, but they don’t have the time or the resources. They are just bailing water as fast as they can. … [That said], the new buildings are clean and the [designs] are somewhat sophisticated.”

“The prototype was knee-jerk. You have to have a full city block to build one of Chicago’s new schools. What they could have done is what New York City did: make prototype components and then hire architects that can put them on a site. … New schools have been built with the idea that in a limited amount of time, you can’t have quality. They sold themselves short. In a way, I don’t think they even know what they missed because you can have it all.”

“It’s a positive plan in the context of overcrowding because it speeds up the process and controls construction costs. There’s accountability built into the system because there is little cream beyond the basic plan. … These are basically decorated boxes. To add a curve or something else more individualistic is difficult, but it can be done. There could be more opportunity for ‘geometry,’ [embellishments] but geometry costs money.”

“[Your assessment ] depends on what you value at this point. If you have savings on material and time, you can obviously put those numbers together. But there is the question how these buildings will stand up to the test of time. An even longer-term question is one of esthetics. [Chicago prototypes] look pretty nice, but [New York] prototypes look nicer. From the way I practice architecture, I would have a difficult time with this. But it’s important to remember that there is quality space being provided that will give kids an environment in which they can learn without worrying about other things. These are new buildings, they are up to date, they are being built with sturdy materials, and they are probably especially satisfying in that there is enough ceiling height, lighting and acoustic properties.”