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Chicago Center for Architecture, Design and Education

**Winner of Chicago Architecture Foundation’s CHI Design Competition**
Chicago, Illinois


Type: Cultural Institution

Size: 251,000 sf

Project Text

mcdowellespinosa’s design “Layered Intelligence” offers a spatial/pedagogical strategy for the Chicago Center for Architecture, Design and Education (CADE) that results in an adaptive, responsive incubator for the future of architecture, design and education. This involves layering tectonic and programmatic components to allow for the incremental control of space and information. This is seen in section as the building becomes the resultant of layering over 500 unique profiles—each calibrated to specific program requirements and environmental stimuli. This layered intelligence approach allows for global complexity to be decoded and managed in local situations. The building prioritizes the customization of an individual unit, which accumulates in a variety of configurations to generate a diverse set of experiences.  


Chicago’s rich architectural history is driven by material and technological innovation.  mcdowellespinosa’s proposal for CADE works to continue this tradition of experimentation in building technologies and materials. The building reads as a layering of two material oppositions: a hard, manufactured material and a soft, organic material.  Precast concrete panels provide structural ribs and a resin-hair composite forms a binding layer between the panels. The resin-hair material transmits light throughout the building while adding visual screening that results from the clustering of hair particles. The hair embedded in the compound is extracted from the excessive waste stream of human hair that travels from hair salons to landfills. The material provides an organic thermal insulation to the building. 


Layered Intelligence will reaffirm the crucial role architecture and design play in the future of Chicago and will serve as a model for future learning environments that not only improve student achievement but also act as catalysts for vibrant community engagement around local design challenges and opportunities.

"It taps into, historically speaking, a history that Chicago isn’t crazy rich in: the use of structure, in an eccentric way, to define space and differentiate program on [both] the exterior and interior. I love the fact that it is really unafraid to be very idiosyncratic and very particular to purpose. Maybe Bertrand Goldberg hit it best, [and] this is a varied vocabulary of Goldberg. We like the generic and repurposable. This strikes me as resisting that tendency in a cool way."  comment from Juror 2. 

"The whole thing is very strange and I appreciate that because I feel like (the designer) didn’t pick this up from a magazine. It comes from a place inside his/her head. And then there is a kind of obstinacy about this building. I was in the cab and we went past the Monadnock building, and that is one stubborn building. I appreciated that sense of stubbornness." Comment from Juror 5. 



Seth McDowell


mcdowellespinosa architects

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