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Old Town School of Folk Music, Chicago, IL

Scale and rhythm. Music, dance, movement, and delight. These are some of the many themes that are woven through Old Town School of Folk Music. How to embody an institution that celebrates such age-old ideas in new and evolving ways? We took a stroll through the building with VOA architect Bill Ketcham to talk about his thought process in designing the space, and to ask him why he chose terrazzo.

“If you wander through the building, there’s a lot of pattern. The big feature wall evolved over time from the Schroeder diffuser in the back of the performance hall.” The idea of these integrated patterns is further carried out in the structure of the space. “If you look at it from across the street the windows would line up in such a way…. we saw a lot of parallels, a lot of movement, and we wanted to reinforce that.”

As a space, the design fosters both the novice and the expert with a strong sense of continuity. This is a building that not only sees high traffic but its visitors come back their whole lives. From the early years spent in Wiggleworms – the popular class for infants – through art classes, guitar lessons, and concerts, the Old Town School really does walk through a lifetime with an artist. The thoughtfully designed terrazzo floors will brightly last through all the many cycles of students, teachers, artists, and visitors without fading. They’re low maintenance, too, so its less worry (and less money) for the folks that run the space, leaving more time to enjoy the great work being done within its walls.

The sense of continuity, pattern, and even movement is easy to see throughout the space, but there’s an extra sparkle to the character of the school that VOA didn’t want to leave out. “There’s a beer mentality as opposed to a wine mentality,” chuckled Bill as he pointed out a unique feature in the flooring, “They talked about that, and so we took the recycled glass from brown beer bottles and mixed it with recycled mirror for that subtle sparkle. It gives a unique depth to the colors.” And a great nod to the feel of the place, too!

The glass isn’t just for looks, either. The recycled glass in the floors and the remarkable durability of terrazzo played a role in the building’s gold LEED Certification. Sustainable, durable, and great design – it’s no wonder the building received an Honorable Mention in the 2012 NTMA Honor Awards!

Project details

  • Location: Chicago, IL
  • Project Name: Old Town School of Folk Music
  • Owner/Client: Old Town School of Folk Music
  • Terrazzo Contractor: Menconi Terrazzo
  • Architect: Bill Ketcham of VOA
  • General Contractor: Bulley & Andrews
  • Terrazzo Material Supplier: Terrazzo & Marble Supply Co.
  • Divider Strip Supplier: Manhattan American Terrazzo Strip Co

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