International House Courtyard
The University of Chicago
The International House at The University of Chicago is an iconic structure both for its role, as the center of life for international students, and its magnificent collegiate gothic architecture. Designed and built in the 1920s, the International House surrounds an exterior courtyard designed by landscape architect Beatrix Farrand which was not accessible or in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). In addition, the paving was heaved, uneven, and hazardous; the landscaping was overgrown and the courtyard was excessively shady; and tables, chairs, and furnishings were fully depreciated.
In addition to improving accessibility, goals included aesthetic improvements in the spirit of the historic design, and preservation and retention of as much of the original “historic fabric” as possible. The upper tier of the courtyard was raised to the elevation of the surrounding building, eliminating sills (barriers) at doors; existing steps to the lower tier of the courtyard were rebuilt and increased, keeping the lower tier of the courtyard at its historic elevation; and a new “sloped sidewalk” (with a slope of less than five (5) percent, which does not require railings or landings) was constructed to connect the upper and lower tiers of the courtyard. It was important to avoid railings along the accessible route, in order to avoid introduction of non-historic and visually jarring elements. The historic slate paving was removed, stored, cleaned, and re-used.
As for plant material, non-historic, volunteer, and overgrown trees were removed and replaced with smaller ornamental trees around the perimeter and large shade trees with lighter foliage, that create less shade, in the middle of the courtyard. Shrubs and groundcovers were added providing a complement to the hardscape.
The restoration was constructed for a budget of $400,000 including the new slate and bluestone paving, the ADA improvements (the original impetus for the project), site fixtures and furnishings, and landscaping. The project was completed on schedule in 2007.