16 October 2009

Adaptive reuse....Uncovering hidden gems....Reinvigorating the past

No matter how you put it, this school is seriously cool.
Powerhouse High School, located in the North Lawndale neighborhood of Chicago's near Southwest side is a renovated component of what was once the powerhouse behind the mega company of Sears Roebuck and Company, literally.

When this looming structure was first inhabited at the turn of the 20th century, it served to provide electricity and heat to what was once the headquarters of the Sears franchise......including the original Sears Tower, long before Willis ever came along.

When Sears did move its headquarters to its now central Loop location, the building and much of the surrounding area lay vacant and decaying for decades. Then, someone (the government) came along and began evaluating the buildings one by one, as a way to determine how to renovate the buildings.

The Powerhouse, it was determined, would best serve the surrounding community as a high school. Thus began the long and arduous process of restoration. And so it happened that a building once used to process tons and tons of coal became a teaching tool of sustainability and growth to a new generation.

Top three design features of the new space:

1. The great hall, common space....once full of giant coal powered machines....

now where students gather before, after and between classes. Notice the original Tiffany tiles still adorning the walls, some things never go out of style.

2. The incorporation of original ductwork into classroom design....learning by observing.

3. Fire escapes, green roofs, geothermal energy....the most elegant threesome I've ever seen.

4. Ok, I lied, there were four 'top designs' ....but these teacher's work stations made from old tunnels are too cozy and intriguing to pass up.

My favorite aspect of this fascinating new/old learning environment? They are predicting it will achieve a LEED platinum rating for Existing Buildings, while also preserving what is now a National Historic Landmark building. In my opinion, this project highlights adaptive reuse of urban structures at it's absolute best.

This website has more great information and resources pertaining to the history and future of this great historic landmark: http://www.homansquarepowerhouse.com/