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The Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Award for Architectural Excellence in Community Design, Third Place

The undulating three-story structure of steel and glass at 51st and Homan in Chicago’s Gage Park neighborhood is first and foremost a school – the UNO Soccer Academy Elementary School that welcomes 600 children each day. But it’s also a powerful sculptural presence that reflects the energy of the community and its desire to empower children through education and soccer. The vision and beautiful design by JGMA give the building – the newest of UNO’s 11 charters schools – a sense of transparency and connection to the largely Latino community.

The sides of the building are clad in glass allowing a flood of daylight and a seamless connection between classroom and neighborhood. The ground floor houses the shared elements, where learning theaters and soccer fields frame an interior courtyard. Classrooms occupy the second floor, while the third floor is devoted to a community center with views of the Chicago skyline.

All of the building’s corridors and stairwells are enclosed in glass on the exterior of the structure. The large openings around the school allow for interaction between the students within and the passing community. JGMA architects and UNO won community support by emphasizing their vision for a school that would creatively engage students and families. Building on the site of a long-shuttered manufacturing plant, the partners took title to the land in less than a year and constructed what has become a neighborhood icon.

The school’s breathtaking architectural elements are from the playbook of classical Chicago public schools designed more than a century ago, whose enduring values are reminders of the potential that education offers. For its stunning design that enhances the streetscape and speaks to the aspiration of its students and community, JGMA architects is awarded the 3rd Place Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Award for Architectural Excellence in Community Design.