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Understanding Chicago Public Schools as a System

Student review with guests at the Department of Architecture, Interior Architecture, and Designed Objects (SAIC).

We couldn’t have had a better first review for our Process(ing) Transformations class at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Guest critics included Nicolette Stosur-Basset, social impact designer at Do it Better Design, Tejashri Varpe, Architect at Urban Works, Lindsey Conklin, Anthropologist and PhD from the University of Chicago, and Anjulie Rao, writer, and journalist of the Chicago Architect Magazine. Generous with their expertise, our discussion tackled difficult topics such as: How is the quantitative data eliminating the narratives that actually make a school successful? How do we visually understand systems and make it accessible to a variety of audiences? Lastly, how do we use boundaries as points of access?

Below you'll find the presentation materials from this first exercise titled Chicago Public Schools: Understanding the System, and the lenses through which we explored this research: history, governance and politics, movement and transition, infrastructure and facilities.

Thank you guest critics and team members for your insight and rich conversation!

History (Click here to download complete pdf)

Valerie introduced CPS and took the boundaries of the United States socio-political culture as a point of access to highlighting the insidious nature of racism that worked on the inevitable school closings. By tracing the history of Chicago Public Schools and its relationship with the Chicago Housing Authority she contextualized overarching issues and made it more relatable.

Governance and Politics (Click here to download complete pdf)

These boundaries also became an entry point for us to understand the governance and politics involved in the Chicago Public Schools decision making. By visualizing power structures it revealed the larger amount of influence community members have in processing the transformation of the Chicago Public Schools closings to a potential future fit for each neighborhood.

Movement and Transition (Click here to download complete pdf)

Likewise, Lianne piggybacked on the idea of accessibility and beautifully visualized the transition and movements of closed public schools through a narrative of a schoolgirl from Beethoven. It became clear how these transitions to other schools were located near gang territories, exposing these kids to danger and CPS careless decision making. Most importantly, Lianne's accessibility with information introduced a framework for a glossary of terms that exposes CPS’s use of language to post-rationalization.

Infrastructure and Facilities (Click here to download complete pdf)

Lastly, Pu’s concern for safe passage with the transition schools deepened the conversation with her understanding of the Chicago Public Schools infrastructure. She explained the distribution of public schools, charter schools, and private schools while focusing on the segregation of each throughout the city. Based on this analysis she exposed the influence of infrastructure and the lack of in low-income schools highly concentrated in the west and south, while charter schools are the heart of the city and feed of public transportation.


JULIA LOPES is a senior student at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in the Department of Architecture, Interior Architecture, and Designed Objects.

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