How are architects meeting the needs of today’s colleges and universities? Four firms who received AIA Chicago 2015 Design Excellence Awards share their projects. This discussion is the second of two panels hosted by AIA Chicago during the Chicago Architecture Biennial. 



Juan Moreno, AIA of JGMA
Northeastern Illinois University El Centro
Distinguished Building Honor Award 

The Northeastern Illinois University (NEIU) El Centro project is the first component in a satellite campus master plan envisioned by NEIU to provide educational, career and cultural opportunities primarily, though not exclusively, to the Latino community of Chicago. The El Centro campus seeks to revitalize this large swath of primarily industrial land bordered by Kimball Avenue, the Union Pacific/Northwest Metra line, and the 90/94 expressway, while serving as a catalyst for further development in the area. The building’s sculptural form and vibrant facade are layered with intent reaching far beyond their superior iconographic capabilities. Especially indicative of this point are the exterior vertical louvers, which when coupled with the fully-glazed single-loaded corridors, combine to create an incredibly efficient sun-shading and acoustic-buffering barrier, protecting students of the many evening classes offered from the intensity of the setting western sun and the roar of rush hour traffic. The NEIU El Centro Campus is a project completely engrossed in and belonging to its location and community and reinforces Chicago’s identity as a city rich in educational and architectural cultures.

Claire Halpin, AIA of Studio Gang Architects
Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership
Distinguished Building Honor Award and Divine Detail Citation of Merit

Racism, sexism, heterosexism, poverty, access, civil rights: many conversations about injustice begin in domestic spaces hidden from view— in someone’s living room, around a kitchen table, in a church basement. The college’s goal for the center is to focus on the work of social justice and train a new generation of leaders, bringing these conversations up from the basement and squarely into public consciousness. A challenge for the architecture was how to respond to this desire for visibility and at the same time respect the diverse context of residential-scaled buildings nearby, including the traditional red-brick architecture of the college, the surrounding residential community, and a grove of hardwood trees. The design addresses each vista with large transparent planes, allowing the work of the center to become visible. Visually open and activated by daylight, the center’s flexible spaces create a home for seminars, gatherings, and conferences. The building’s three distinct wings intersect at an informal meeting space at the central hearth. Smaller meeting areas and individual workspaces surround the main assembly spaces. Areas for the center's staff foster both solo and collaborative work. The wood masonry exterior is a sustainable application of a heritage technique revived for the 21st century. The proud architecture elevates the act of convening for social justice.

Mitchell Hirsch, AIA of Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects
The Theatre School at DePaul University
Distinguished Building Honor Award

The  Theatre School serves as DePaul University’s western gateway.  The building is dynamic, yet respectful to the neighborhood. The five-story building is a composition of rectangular forms clad in limestone, translucent, and transparent glass.  More than seven thousand square feet of green roof is located on multiple roof levels. Form and materials are used to express program diversity; two theatres, scenery fabri­cation shops, rehearsal rooms, movement rooms, acting labs, lecture halls, offices, support spaces, and script library. The shop spaces are located on the ground floor, with large expanses of glass, revealing the inner workings of theater to the community at large. Wide corridors and open lounges encourage  spontaneous collaboration. On the fifth level a sky-lit lounge brings daylight into the core of the building. The lobby invites informal gathering of theatre goers before and after performances in the 250-seat thrust theater, and allows for chance encounters with actors and crew. It also serves as a performance space and a lively “living room” with floor-to-ceiling glass connecting to the outdoors. In keeping with the street energy, a 100-seat flexible theater cantilevers from the fourth floor.  The theater features a double-skin glass wall with color-changing LED lighting facing Fullerton Avenue.

Bryan Schabel, AIA of Perkins+Will
Case Western Reserve University Tinkham Veale University Center
Interior Architecture Honor Award

Located in the center of three separately defined campus zones at Case Western Reserve University the new university center contains student gathering spaces, dining facilities, meeting rooms, and offices for student organizations.  The new building features three wings that are designed to facilitate the convergence of students from all three zones and serve as a connection point to tie the entire campus together. The site is adjacent to a large open field, which sits atop a two-story underground parking structure. Construction was prohibited on the field above the garage due to insufficient structure and high hydrostatic pressure. The two sides adjacent to the field and underground parking structure are cantilevered over the garage to avoid these structural complications and to maximize floor plate sizes. The structure of the facility was designed as a folded plate of green roofs growing out of the site with glazed walls below that open views to the outdoors.  At the intersection of the three wings is a double-height gathering space uniting the two floors of the facility.  A two-story high double-glazed wall encloses this space and opens western views into the field and an art museum beyond while eliminating excessive heat loads.