GEMS World Academy-Chicago, Lower School

Chicago, Illinois / United States of America

GEMS World Academy, an international private school, established their first school in the United States in Chicago’s Lakeshore East community. The design addresses unique challenges and opportunities, distinguishing the facility in its urban setting. GEMS’ program was married with local requirements, resulting in a new model for high-rise schools.

The 82,000 square foot Lower School houses 650 students within 10 stories on a limited site footprint. Juxtaposed against an adjacent park, the playful exterior is a modernist composition of interlacing colored panels and glass that expresses the configuration of spaces within. The rational design facilitated efficient fabrication and fast-paced construction.

Organized to reduce travel times, the common areas of this vertical school are stacked centrally. Two levels of entry result from the complex site section and vertical circulation is achieved through two light filled stairwells and three elevators. With limited access to natural light at the base of the building, the necessity of single-loaded corridors set the planning direction for the entire facility to maximize daylight and provide excellent views. Flexibility, optimized floor area, and connectivity also drove the design.

The building optimizes the site while addressing programmatic needs, planned development requirements and traffic management through an internal drop off. 

Architect of Record

bKL Architecture LLC

Associate Architect



GEMS Americas

General Contractor

Power Construction Company


  • Halvorson and Partners
  • WMA Consulting Engineers, Ltd.
  • Wolff Landscape Architecture, Inc.