Valerio Dewalt Train Associates’ Gordon Parks Arts Hall sails onto the University of Chicago’s Hyde Park campus like a 21st-century luxury liner: its block-long bulk carefully crafted with a sleek profile whose expression meshes with the surrounding buildings, while still illustrating compelling forms driven by ideas about architecture and education. The building anchors the northern end of a multibuilding subcampus that houses three of the four grade-based “units” that comprise the university’s pre-K–12 Laboratory Schools, which were founded by John Dewey as an experiment in pre-collegiate education.
Gordon Parks Arts Hall (GPAH) is the most recently completed portion of a comprehensive master plan for the Lab Schools that clocks in at more than 539,000 square feet, including new construction of an off-site early-learning center and renovation of the existing buildings (now nearing completion). Chicago-based Valerio Dewalt Train Associates’ (VDTA) principal Joseph Valerio, FAIA, clinched the commission for the plan in 2008, when he gave the school’s high-powered board a one-word answer for where to start their architectural explorations. “Research,” he said.