Bernard Zell Anshe Emit Day School’s Floating Entrance Provides Sense of Identity

Chicago, Illinois

New Entrance and Addition Reflect Religious and Cultural Values

The Bernard Zell Anshe Emet Day School’s 32,000-square-foot addition provides a welcoming, secure entrance and communal space for students. The building celebrates the school’s religious and cultural heritage with a design that reflects Jewish principles and ideas.

The new brick facade unifies prior additions and provides the school with its own entrance, which was previously shared with its partner synagogue. The light-colored single-wythe brick appears to float above the ground and is meant to recall the Jewish tallit or prayer shawl. Exposed masonry jambs and headers emphasize the thin facade by allowing the single wythe to be seen from both interior and exterior of the building.

Inside, at the center of the space, 12 curved brick walls pinwheel to reveal glimpses inside The Makom Rina, or Place of Joy, where students enjoy music and spiritual activities. The 2 wythes of brick that make up each paneled wall are tied together with headers in a pattern inspired by the star of David. The joints are raked to allow students to place prayers in between the bricks, a practice dating to the ancient western wall of Jerusalem.

IMI provided drawing and detail review for the project team working on the Bernard Zelle Anshe Emet Day School Expansion. Together with IMI, the general contractor Bulley and Andrews and BAC signatory contractor J&E Duff, fabricated full-scale exterior facade mockups to test installation methods, detail complexities, and predict scheduling.

The project has since been honored with multiple design awards, and will go on to provide a vibrant learning environment for generations of students.

Project Highlights  

  • Incorporates timeless Jewish principles and ideas into the building’s structure and experience 
  • Brings new efficiency to the building, which begins at its entrance with the security check-in process, and continues throughout, including the lounge and sanctuary area
  • Minimizes thermal shorting through the use of sustainable insulated cavity walls  
  • Provides an innovative and secure learning environment for future generations


Photos: Steve Hall & Kendall Ristau Photographers, LTD


  • Drawing Review
  • Detail Review
  • Constructability Mockups
  • Customized Project Team Education

Project Team

BAC Administrative District Council 1 IL (Local 21 Chicago)
BAC Contractors:
J & E Duff, Inc.
General Contractor:
Bulley & Andrews 
A/E Firms:
Wheeler Kearns Architects and Thornton Tomasetti


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