The Blue Ribbon School-recognized Bernard Zell Anshe Emet Day School (BZAEDS) in Chicago, Illinois has elevated its unique identity with a sustainable expansion that celebrates the private K-8 day school’s Jewish values and cultural heritage. Designed by local architectural practice Wheeler Kearns Architects, the recently renovated BZAEDS has most notably gained a secure, light-filled entry with a plaza, a variety of gathering spaces, flexible classroom areas and a series of environmentally friendly features, which range from a solar array to permeable paving throughout for responsible stormwater management.

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Opened in 1946 with the motto “You Shall Teach Them Diligently,” the Bernard Zell Anshe Emet Day School is located next to the Anshe Emet Synagogue, with which it formerly shared a small and nondescript entrance accessed from the parking lot. The new, 32,000-square-foot Bernard Zell Anshe Emet Day School Expansion, completed last year, provides the school with a secure and independent entrance dedicated to the students. The entry vestibule is fronted with south-facing glass to promote connection between the school and the community. Full-height glazing also provides views to the school’s varied functions from religious classes held in the “Makom Rina” (Place of Joy) to the outdoor recreational fields.

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curving wall opening to a classroom

“The addition embeds timeless Jewish principles and ideas into the structure and experience of the building, while providing an efficient, sustainable innovative learning environment for future generations,” the architects explained. “The building uses daylight, open space, visual connection, and material cues so visitors can intuit their way through the building. Most importantly, the building makes all visitors, staff, faculty and students feel like they have a place to call home.”

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play room and classroom area

In addition to providing a more attractive entry and flexible gathering spaces, such as the lushly landscaped entry plaza, the expansion optimizes the environmentally friendly aspects of the solar-powered school. Ample glazing lets in natural light and reduces dependence on artificial lighting while deep overhangs mitigate solar heat gain. A VRF mechanical system was installed for on-demand heating and cooling. Recycled, renewable and low-VOC materials were selected for much of the interior palette, such as the ceilings, linoleum floors, tile and athletic field composition.

+ Wheeler Kearns Architects

Photography by ​Steve Hall, Hall + Merrick Photographers via Wheeler Kearns Architects

kids sitting on concrete seats in outdoor space