University Unveils New Residential Commons

Renderings of Campus North

From July, 2013

By Dianna Douglas
Rendering by Studio Gang Architects

Studio Gang Architects, led by renowned Chicago architect Jeanne Gang, has been selected to design a major new residential commons on the north end of the University of Chicago campus, officials announced.

The signature facility, which will house roughly 800 undergraduates, is designed around the College’s distinctive House System, with an emphasis on building community. Studio Gang will collaborate with Mortenson Construction on the project, which is expected to open in 2016.

Occupying the space where Pierce Tower and Dining Commons now stands, at the corner of 55th Street and University Avenue, the project will create a new gateway connecting the University to the Hyde Park community to the north and enhancing pedestrian flow.

John W. Boyer, Dean of the College, said the project represents a milestone in the development of the College’s residential life.

“The University is far stronger when we create vibrant communities of learning and friendship for our students in our residential system,” Boyer said. “High-quality collegiate housing, located centrally on the campus, is an enormous asset in supporting the educational goals of the faculty, in developing active and stimulating learning communities among our students, and in encouraging patterns of lifelong friendships among our alumni.”

“This building embodies our vision for our housing system,” said Karen Warren Coleman, Vice President for Campus Life and Student Services. “It will serve as an incubator for intellectual and personal development to the benefit of the students who live there and the entire campus community,” she said.

The Studio Gang-Mortenson proposal was chosen from among dozens of entries through a rigorous process involving faculty, staff, students, and University and community stakeholders.

“This world-class design from Jeanne Gang, one of the most innovative architects of our time, continues our commitment to architecture that cultivates a scholarly community,” said Steve Wiesenthal, Associate Vice President and University Architect. “We are fortunate to be working with her and her team, and delighted that, after looking around the globe, we found the best answer here in Chicago.”

Intimate communities in a big city

Jeanne Gang said the project presents an opportunity to advance the University’s goals toward a cohesive, sustainable campus populated by great architecture and strong ties to the Hyde Park community.

“We are excited to develop our design that focuses on creating vibrant student communities within the residential commons, connected to a series of new, active public green spaces and environments,” said Gang.

The residential commons will include eight houses of approximately 100 students each, with first- through fourth-year students living together. Each house will be structured around a three-story lounge, where students can meet, study, and relax. The design includes special accommodations for third- and fourth-year students seeking a more independent living experience, including private rooms and kitchen facilities; at the same time, it will allow them to take part in the development of strong communities and friendships with fellow students and staff.

In keeping with House System tradition, faculty members and advanced graduate students will live with the undergraduates as resident staff. They will cultivate the communities within each house by organizing trips around the city and extending classroom learning through lectures, programs, and events.

Tables in the dining commons are likewise organized by house, allowing the members of each community to eat their meals with friends while looking out over green courtyards. Other unique spaces, such as the top-floor reading room, respond to student needs while offering gathering spaces with panoramic views of the Chicago skyline, Lake Michigan, and surrounding neighborhoods. The project also will feature a small number of retail spaces, offices, multiuse rooms, and classrooms.

“The design of the new residential commons reflects how students want to live when they come to UChicago—to have their school, work, home, and recreational lives knitted together for a full College experience,” Coleman said.

“The goal of the design is to encourage more connections and more interactions between people,” Gang said.

The University also chose the Studio Gang design for its elegant and imaginative use of the land between Greenwood and University avenues, and 55th Street and the Henry Crown Field House. In addition to the new building, the space will include lawns, paths, and recreation areas, opening up the area to the University community and surrounding neighborhood.

A transformative project

“Mortenson couldn’t be more excited to partner with Studio Gang and the University of Chicago on this transformative project,” said Greg Werner, vice president and general manager of Mortenson Construction’s Chicago office. “We look forward to delivering world-class architecture that will serve as an international model and significantly enhance the student academic experience.”

The team will pursue LEED Gold certification, a measure of the sustainability and efficiency of the design.

The building will be the newest addition to the campus’ rich architectural legacy, including the traditional Collegiate Gothic quadrangles; modernist landmarks by renowned architects like Eero Saarinen and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe; and contemporary facilities such as Rafael Viñoly’s Charles M. Harper Center, Helmut Jahn’s Joe and Rika Mansueto Library, and Tod Williams and Billie Tsien’s recently opened Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts.

UChicagoSocial: Campus and Student Life