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When a campus was required for Roosevelt University VOA took an exciting new direction – upwards

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The constant demand for commercial, residential and retail sites can prove constraining for an inner-city university looking to expand. However, even when surrounding space is limited, there is another way – building a campus that goes up instead of out, staking its place on the skyline.

Roosevelt University is a well-known institution in downtown Chicago. Until recently, its centre has been the famous Auditorium Building on Michigan Avenue, overlooking Grant Park and Lake Michigan. Designed by Dankmar Adler and Louis Sullivan, this was one of the earliest multi-use buildings in the United States – once including an upmarket hotel, offices, stores, and a theatre.

Wanting to expand the academic facility, university president Charles Middleton asked architects VOA Associates to design a 32-storey, vertical campus alongside the Auditorium Building. The Wabash Building would also be mixed use, providing everything from student services and classrooms to accommodation. A dormitory and offices were removed to clear the 1580m² site.

Principal at VOA Chris Groesbeck says the idea of a vertical campus threw up important design questions. They needed to find a way to give the tower a dynamic profile while looking the part alongside its historic neighbour; to create the casual social hubs so integral to campus life within a vertical domain; and to create expansive, light-filled learning spaces inside the new building.

"We designed the base to approximate the scale of the Auditorium Building on one side and the old Fine Arts Building on Wabash Street on the other, anchoring it within its setting," says Groesbeck. "The glass panels on the facade also play a part. Their pattern changes as the tower rises, creating a sense of progress appropriate to an academic institution and echoing the older facades alongside that also become more refined as they ascend."

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Most dramatic of all are the tower's slanting faces, which respond to the views south to the lake and north and west to the business district.

"The facade bows in and out as it climbs, creating a singular profile on the skyline," says Groesbeck. "However, the slanting faces have practical benefit, too – large, double-height areas for students to gather are set on levels where the face tips outwards.

"These junctures create great mixing spaces, offering canyon views down into the city and out across the water. Conversely, we set classes and offices where the facade tips inwards – areas where maximised views would be more of a distraction."

Economy of build was also important for the Wabash Building and Groesbeck had to find an easy cohesion within the vertical campus.

"We set the core to the north face of the building, where views would be least compromised. Having the services, elevators, and bathrooms off to one side freed up the centre volumes for classrooms and lecture theatres that required longer spans only made possible by this offset core arrangement."

The tower connects to the Auditorium Building in four places, for an easy flow between old and new, creating a dynamic sense of campus. Practice rooms in the tower are a stroll along the hallway from the Auditorium Theatre in the older building.

First published date: 09 September 2012

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Credit List

Location Roosevelt University Wabash Building, Chicago
Architect Chris Groesbeck AIA, NCARB, LEED, VOA Associates
Construction company Power Construction
Structural engineer Magnusson Klemencic Associates
Mechanical and electrical engineer WMA
Earthworks Roy Strom
Landscaping VOA Associates
Fire consultant Nova Fire Protection
Cladding and glazing system Permasteelisa curtain wall, precast concrete from High Concrete
Roof Green Grid
Facade design VOA Associates
Hardware Rixson, Sargent, McKinney, Best, Rockwood
Flooring consultant Flooring Resources Corporation
Wallcoverings and paint consultant Demos Painting and Decorating
Ceiling Acoustical Ceiling Tile by Armstrong; gypsum board ceilings by Georgia-Pacific
Lighting Cosentini Associates
Heating Advanced Mechanical Systems with Siemens Building Technologies as temperature controls consultant
Public area furniture Dining hall furniture by DesignLines; conference room furniture by Ruder Group, lecture theatre seating in Sedia Systems by Brenda Faist Associates