UChicago Child Development Center - Stony Island

Chicago, Illinois / United States of America

A Natural Place to Begin Life Long Learning:

  • Inspired by an adjacent historic landscape, the building integrates the natural environment with its architecture and child-centered curriculum.
  • Instead of creating a place dominated by synthetic play equipment and primary colors, the design allows children to be immersed in the natural world to discover first principles first-hand.
  • Emphasizing natural landscape over built-one, two playcourts with a footprint larger than the building itself were provided.

Strategic Infill:

  • The building, with a z-shaped footprint, responds to the narrow infill site, optimizing limited sun exposure and leveraging direct connections between the interior and exterior.
  • The siting of the eastern wing, situated within the shadow of the adjacent 19-story residential tower, preserves as much sun for its playcourt as possible. Conversely, the wing west of the tower is located so that its playcourt can enjoy a generous exposure to the southern sun.
  • The folding roof ripples over both wings, allowing natural light into the classrooms below.

Valuing Nature:

  • 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.
  • 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.

Turing Site Liabilities into Benefits:

  • Over 60% of the previously impervious site was converted to landscape or green roof.
  • Of the new paving on the site over 80% is pervious, allowing for immediate recharging of the aquifer through the ancient beach below. 

Architect of Record

Wheeler Kearns Architects

Associate Architect

Wheeler Kearns Architects


University of Chicago

General Contractor

Leopardo Companies


  • MIG
  • Primera Engineering
  • Thornton-Tomasetti Group