South Campus Revival

Facilities Focus - Winter 2011

South Campus Revival

The Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts is one of a series of ongoing projects which are revitalizing the campus south of the Midway Plaisance, creating a sense of place and destination and stronger ties to the neighboring Woodlawn community. The 180,000 gross square foot building, now under construction, was designed by Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects to create a home for the study and practice of Visual Arts, Music, Film, and Theatre. The project features a variety of offices, classrooms, studios and shops, and music practice and rehearsal spaces, as well as two black box theaters, a film screening auditorium, an art exhibition gallery, café, and a 450-seat performance hall. The building design furthers the University commitment to sustainability through the choice of materials and equipment and the installation of solar panels on the saw-toothed roof of the studio-shops wing. The building’s north and south entrances, offering entrance to students traveling from the main campus and visitors and community members arriving from the west and south, are symbolic of the programmatic activity that will link the campus, community, and City arts scene in lively fashion.

The Logan Arts Center also provides a good starting point to contemplate the history of and current plans for growth along the south side of the campus. The University relationship with the south campus and adjoining Woodlawn community goes back to the inception of the University itself. After the conclusion of the 1893 Columbian Exposition World’s Fair, campus development focused on the creation of the central campus and original main quadrangles. However, by the late 1920’s the University was planning to build a residential college south of the Midway to support the growth of its student populations. The planned college would include a classroom building, offices, athletic fields, and dormitories for men and women. The advent of the 1929 Depression truncated the plan, and the only elements constructed were Burton-Judson Courts, originally a men’s dormitory, and the athletic fields south of Burton-Judson.

In the early 1950’s renowned architect Eero Saarinen was commissioned to guide the University’s initial planning for a new era of buildings on the south side of the Midway. These buildings would not share the main campus quadrangle configuration and Gothic style, but instead be arranged along the southern edge of the Midway Plaisance to take advantage of the eighty-acre historical boulevard and parkway that stretches the entire width of the campus. They would be designed to reflect the construction technology of their time and the functional needs of their occupants. The Law School designed by Eero Saarinen, the SSA Building by Mies van der Rohe, and the New Graduate Residence Hall by Edward Durrell Stone are all examples of buildings from that period that embody these principles.

Recent campus master planning initiatives continue to evaluate how best to use University land on the south side of the Midway. This evaluation has brought the University full circle, back to its 1920’s plans, by extending the diverse mix of academic and residential uses of the main campus to the south through a new group of projects that embody principles of functionality, distinctive design, sustainability, and connectivity to the surrounding University and Woodlawn communities.

This new group of projects includes:

  • Chicago Theological Seminary: Under construction; new seminar building for the United Church of Christ affiliated seminary is a joint project between the University and CTS
  • South Campus Residence Hall and Dining Commons: Completed September 2009; houses 811 undergraduates and provides a dining commons and retail store/café open to the campus and neighborhood communities
  • 61st & Drexel Mixed Use Building: Completed October 2009; provides a 1,000-car parking structure for University of Chicago Hospital employees, and a new home for the University of Chicago Police and administrative offices for over 200 staff of University administrative units including Human Resources and Financial Services.
  • Midway Studios Exterior Restoration: Completed May 2010; as part of the Logan Arts Center Project, the exterior of the National Landmarked Lorado Taft Home and Studios was repaired and restored
  • 6045 Kenwood Building: Completed January 2010; formerly vacant Illinois Bell switching station facility was converted into a LEED Gold certified office building for the Toyota Technical Institute of Chicago and University IT Services
  • South Campus Chiller Plant and South Campus Utility Corridor: Completed 2009; new central chilled water plant provides cooling to buildings on the south and east sectors of the campus. A distribution corridor servicing campus buildings on the south campus from Harper to Drexel Avenues provides steam, chilled water, and communications infrastructure
  • Law School Renovation: Completed in 2009; multi-phase project to reconfigure and restore the Classroom Wing and Auditorium Pavilion, Tower, and Fountain/Plaza of Saarinen’s iconic building

Planning is not just about buildings, but about the open spaces surrounding and connecting the sectors of the University campus and the campus to the neighborhood. For many years the Midway Plaisance was perceived as a dividing line, a distant, dark and often cold transit across campus. A series of projects completed and ongoing are changing that perception by making the Midway Plaisance an active, accessible park and the surrounding and connecting streets attractive, well lit, and pedestrian friendly.

These projects include:

  • New lighting and landscape along areas of 60th and 61st Streets
  • Through the partnership of the University and Chicago Park District the development of a series of destination gardens and better drainage for playing fields
  • Midway Crossings – now under construction, the Midway Crossings project is reconfiguring the streetscapes at the major intersections of Ellis and Woodlawn Avenues reaching from 59th to 60th Streets. Improvements include new sidewalks and landscaping that better separate pedestrians from vehicular traffic, and improved lighting through the installation of new lighting masts and enhanced side-walk level illumination.

Taken together, current and future projects are changing the population densities and flows across campus, placing the activity and vibrancy of the south campus on par with the Main Quadrangles, and creating an inviting portal for campus neighbors to the south. The execution of these projects is part of the University’s deep commitment to create and maintain an urban campus that is a good community neighbor, a good citizen of Chicago, and an exceptional example of how being both promotes and supports its academic initiatives.

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