The Latin Lower School playground occupies the grounds of the former Lurie Mansion in the Gold Coast neighborhood of Chicago. While the land was originally purchased for school programming, ADA compliance and budget restrictions instead prompted the reimagination of the building as administrative offices and the grounds as a new play space for the Lower School children aged four to six. This creatively addressed the school’s overcrowding issues while maximizing budget and outcome. It also provided a much-needed addition to the school’s singular rooftop playground, allowing the school to simultaneously stage recess and outdoor play time for all grades.

The playground was designed according to the principles of Reggio Emilia, an approach towards early childhood education that encourages children to construct their own learning through play and exchange with each other, as well as with the teacher. In this context the environment is the third teacher, serving to inspire and encourage children to delve deeper and deeper into their interests.

Our design created two distinct zones; one active and one more contemplative. Both include a colorful ground plane that can be interpreted at once as an abstract painting, transportation system, and cartographic gameboard. Within this field lies a raised garden, sunken classroom, climbing wall, and serpentine seating of various geometries. Multiple textures and materials have been employed: plants, rubber, rocks, crushed stone, mulch, and wood. Some of these materials were also recycled for greater sustainability. Plastic milk containers and saw dust became landscape timbers, and recycled automobile tires created a permeable rubber surface that mitigated stormwater runoff. A stage for theatrical performances and an orchestra pit round out some of the opportunities for play and engagement, with FSC Certified Ipe decking materials used for the benches and performance stage. 

Typology Educational
Client Latin School of Chicago
Location 1547 N Dearborn, Chicago, IL
Status Completed
date May 2019


Design Level Incorporated
Photographer Kendall McCaugherty © Hall+Merrick
General Contractor Asimow Landscaping
Designer Michelle Sakayan


  • ALA 2019 Gold Metal