U-Chicago Child Development Center - Stony Island

Chicago, Illinois / United States of America

A Natural Place to Begin Life Long Learning:

  • The building integrates the natural environment with its architecture and child-centered curriculum.
  • The deference for the natural world evident in the adjacent historic landscape was conceptually grafted onto, establishing a mission for the center that nature, play, and learning are seamless. 

Strategic Infill:

  • The building, with a z-shaped footprint, responds to the narrow infill site, optimizing limited sun exposure and leveraging direct connections between interior and exterior.
  • Rather than competing with the size or glamour of the adjacent University buildings, the focus of the LEED gold certified center remains on the child’s perspective and outdoor play.

Valuing Nature:

  • Emphasizing natural landscape over built-one, two playcourts with a footprint larger than the building itself were provided.
  • Different surfaces invite children to crawl, roll, ride, climb and walk—to learn about their five senses while interacting with nature. Plants were selected along the visual, auditory, and olfactory tenets.
  • Each playcourt includes a working garden where children learn about growing, harvesting, nutrition, and sustainability.

Discrete Security:

  • Instead of appearing as an impenetrable fortress, natural textures and scale ensures security in the background and wondering and learning in the foreground.

Architect of Record

Wheeler Kearns Architects


University of Chicago

General Contractor

Leopardo Companies


  • MIG
  • Primera Engineering
  • Thornton-Tomasetti Group