The proposal for the conversion of the North American Building to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago considers architecture as a field condition: it is continuous yet varied – a dynamic, interconnected network of elements. In this landscape, variation and adaptability form a porous structure within which fields of information are transmitted, exchanged, modified and mutated, open to the influence of chance encounters and unanticipated adjacencies. The performance criteria of such a place must move beyond functionality in order to truly succeed as a center for innovation.
Instead of relying on the older, hierarchical model of the Big Idea in architecture, pursuing a constellation of smaller ideas will allow the creation of an open field, thereby meeting the School’s mandate for fluid interactivity and maximum flexibility. The existing structure is conceived of as a series of stacked landscapes of technology where speculation on the nature and role of digital media may be critically addressed in the form of experimental work. Here, spatial connectivity, luminous expansiveness and material repetition are interactive elements that establish the field condition.
The vertical data-streaming wall exemplifies the building’s spatial connectivity. Conceived of as a sinuous weave of plastic ribbons, computer monitors, vitrines, and data jacks, this scrim wall located directly adjacent to the elevator banks runs the full height of the building. The wall is a flexible site that can accommodate functions as diverse as displaying video installations, housing critiques, and disseminating departmental and interdepartmental information. In addition, the wall is the spine of the nervous system - conduit that carries lighting, power and data functions to each floor becomes an element within the weave of the wall. This conduit feeds into a secondary system suspended from the ceiling, allowing for flexibility without interrupting floor space or requiring conventional wall jacks.
Open floor plans and the Interlounges create an atmosphere of luminous expansiveness, both physically and metaphorically. Classrooms and critique spaces are situated around the central core. Partitions are limited here to take advantage of the ample natural light that enters each floor from the south and the east. This ensures permeability between the classrooms to maximize opportunities for the dynamic and incidental exchange of ideas and information, which is crucial to a twenty-first century school for the arts.
Michael McInturf Architects + Garofalo Architects