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A Slam Dunk for Education: Real World Learning at the Chicago Basketball Academy

From our Ideas+Buildings Blog

When the new Chicago Basketball Academy (CBA) asked us to begin design work, I couldn’t have been more excited.  Being a sports enthusiast and having worked on numerous educational facilities in my career, athletics has always been an essential component when designing these spaces.  This project gave me a chance to consider an entire school dedicated to all aspects of athletics.

Growing up in Minnesota, hockey was the sport of choice, but I always had an appreciation for all athletics.  Basketball really came into my life during college, where I often participated in pickup games.  These days, I tend to stick to running, but an indelible mark was left when I coached my children’s youth sports.  Winning the game and improving one’s own wellness were only half the story. Valuable lessons about teamwork, negotiation, and physiology were also being learned off the court, on the sidelines. From these days as a coach, I have come away with true understanding of the value of sports and what they can do for young people, and how CBA will use these lessons for its future students.

Similar to many of the progressive education institutions Perkins+Will works with, CBA is looking to implement a multi-disciplinary approach and provide real-world training to all of its students.   Using the “basketball economy” as a platform, they want to prepare students to be leaders in all aspects of the game of basketball.  These aspects include roles in management, agents, lawyers, trainers, marketers, coaches, sports medicine professionals, physical therapists as well as numerous others.  The foundation of the curriculum will involve traditional classes infused with athletic and special electives. 

Perkins+Will has experience with this type of curriculum, having worked on the design and programming for the Blue Valley Center for Advanced Professional Studies (CAPS).  CAPS is a unique learning facility that serves around 200 high school juniors and seniors from five area schools.  Educators and business professionals work together in this facility to emulate real world experiences and introduce students to various professional careers.  CBA seeks to also give students these real world experiences through basketball and central to this theme is community involvement.  The school will focus on creating a facility that is open to the community through multi-use programming and by incorporating a sports-medicine clinic, where CBA students will gain a deep understanding of how a facility of this type works and how it fits into the larger goal of wellness.

Part of CBA’s vision is that the educational facility should be located in the heart of Chicago.  This  central location would not only serve students arriving daily from around the city but would also attract out-of-town students who want to experience all that Chicago’s urban setting has to offer.

Seeking a conceptual architectural design that represented a tangible expression of their vision, the leaders of the academy asked Perkins+Will: what would such a facility look like?  Our team sat down with them to determine space requirements, and helped to better define those spaces they don’t yet know that they need – drawing inspiration from our experience working with educational institutions and sports facilities, both in Chicago and around the world.  For conceptual purposes, an available property in the Streeterville neighborhood was chosen as an example of an urban site they could potentially utilize.  Knowing the space restraints typical of urban sites, we used our recently completed and vertically designed William Jones College Preparatory High school, located in the heart of downtown Chicago, as inspiration. 

After working with CBA to form the concept, the Perkins+Will team developed an innovative 10-story conceptual design.  Our design proposed a ground-level that includes administrative offices, a library, a health clinic, and a cyber-café.  A student-friendly stair would lead to the 2nd floor cafeteria with an adjacent performance stage.  The next three floors would hold instructional classrooms and science labs, as well as a main gym and an auxiliary gym.  The top two floors would house residential dorm rooms and the roof top would include an open-air basketball court, so students could enjoy outdoor activities and so that the basketball mission would be readily apparent to those in the adjacent high-rise residential towers.

The exterior building materials will aid in making the facility feel open to the community by the use of glass and metal, giving it a transparent appearance.  In addition, structural cross-bracing, a unique Chicago high-rise expression, is adapted to suggest basketball netting. 

The Chicago Basketball Academy identified with our initial architectural vision and is currently using it to help build their facility vision with potential partners and may use this design concept for additional facilities around the world.

For more information on CBA, please click here

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