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Wheeler Kearns Architects honored by AIA Chicago Design Excellence Awards

by SAH News | Nov 17, 2020

The Bernard Zell Anshe Emet Day School expansion by Wheeler Kearns Architects was presented with three Design Excellence Awards from AIA Chicago at its virtual ceremony on Friday November 13. The project received a Distinguished Building Award and two Divine Detail Awards, for the Tallit (exterior brick) and the Makom Rina (sacred space). The firm’s design expresses the building’s unique identity, celebrating its religious and cultural heritage, while providing an innovative and sustainable learning environment. 

Located in the Lakeview neighborhood, the school and adjacent synagogue had shared the same facilities — including an entrance  — since 1948. The project reorients the school towards a newly-constructed plaza, loggia and vestibule, offering a new secure and welcoming entrance. Inside, there is a focus on visibility and connection, with transparent glass walls, open spaces, and plentiful daylight creating a welcoming and intuitive environment. The building also has a small footprint, with interventions such as an insulated cavity wall to minimize thermal shorting, a solar array producing power for the building, deep overhangs that shield the generous glazing at the ground floor, and the use of recycled, renewable, low VOC materials.

Jewish principles and ideas are incorporated into the design itself. For example, the light-colored brick wraps the exterior just as the tallit (prayer shawl) helps one to create a sacred space for reflection, learning, and prayer. The heart of the addition is a curved masonry and glass sacred space – the Makom Rina, or ‘Place of Joy’. Twelve exposed curved masonry walls represent the twelve original tribes of Israel, with the wythes of brick angled to create a pattern that evokes the star of David. Interior head joints are raked open so that participants can place prayers into the joints between the units, like in the ancient western wall of Jerusalem. 

Based in Chicago, Wheeler Kearns Architects is a collective practice of architects devoted to creating places that embody their clients’ purpose, energy, and vision. The 20-person firm designs inclusive spaces for mission-driven organizations in education, the arts, and social services. Since its founding in 1987, Wheeler Kearns has twice been named by a national jury as AIA Chicago’s Firm of the Year. The award honors sustained outstanding achievement and excellence in a body of work produced by a firm over time.   Wheeler Kearns has been a great supporter of SAH as a frequent sponsor of the Society's yearly fall Awards Gala in Chicago.  

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