Transforming Spaces: Bond Chapel and Mandel Hall

The care and maintenance of the University’s 121-year-old campus is entrusted to the staff of Facilities Services, who fiercely protect the University’s historic architecture and cultural identity.

The gothic structures on the main quadrangles, the historic heart of campus, are designed as an interconnected academic village and require particular care and attention.

Two of the most important buildings on the main quadrangle, Bond Chapel and Mandel Hall, both underwent significant renovation and preservation efforts this year designed to enhance and unobtrusively update the gothic structures for use today and decades into the future.

Both Mandel and Bond represent equal halves of a key interest of the University: to provide warm and welcoming spaces for our students to explore and thrive academically, while also offering space for artistic expression, quiet reflection and community engagement.

“In both of these projects, the goal was to make improvements to these treasured spaces without intrinsically altering their character,” said Erin Mulrooney, executive director of the department’s Business Systems + Finance unit.

“Much of the work of Facilities Services aligns with this goal – operating the campus on a day-to-day basis, planning for its future and building to meet program goals and enhance and protect the environment, without significantly altering the unique character of this great institution.”

Mandel Hall

The 109-year-old Mandel Hall, known for its fine acoustics, has long been a treasured music venue for the UChicago community, Hyde Park and surrounding south side communities. Mandel can seat nearly 1,000 in its ornate Victorian interior and has hosted a wide array of composers and musical acts, from Aaron Copeland and Samuel Barber in its early years to the Funkadelics and the Commodores in more recent times. It also is a popular venue for student performances and activities, theatrical performances, and guest speakers.

In 1964, Professor Ralph Shapey founded the Contemporary Chamber Players (CCP), cementing the University's dedication to emerging composers. Almost 40 years later, the CCP continues to keep Mandel Hall at the forefront of new music performance, now organized as the University of Chicago Presents.

Mandel is unique in that it is one of few buildings on the quad with a timber structure. FS crews added cleverly-disguised, code-mandated fire sprinklers, enhanced the acoustics and refreshed the hand-stenciled finishes to breathe new life into the venue.

Joseph Bond Chapel

Southwest of Swift Hall and connected to it by a beautiful stone cloister is the Joseph Bond Chapel, which also added a chapter to its storied life in fiscal year 2013.

Bond Chapel, which opened in 1926, is a popular location for weddings, worship, and intimate music performances. The Chapel was a gift of Mrs. Joseph Bond in memory of her husband, a former Trustee of the Baptist Theological Union, the predecessor institution of the Divinity School.

This past year, an opportunity arose that allowed Facilities Services to introduce a new musical instrument into the 87-year-old space. During the University’s recent purchase of the Chicago Theological Seminary building, FS became aware the seminary would not relocate its very high quality baroque organ, a gift from the late Betty C. Reneker, who along with her husband, the late Robert W., both had had strong ties to the University and to CTS. Facilities Services leadership immediately set out to preserve the Reneker Organ and find it a fitting new home on campus.

Bond Chapel, one of the most popular locations on campus for weddings, was the obvious choice, but questions lingered on whether the volume of space at Bond would be musically appropriate for the remarkable organ.

Working with an outside expert in organ acoustics and preservation, it was determined the Reneker Organ could sound, in its new space, just as clear and as layered as it reverberated at CTS. We were thrilled to find, through our hard work and careful efforts, an organ designed to musically fit one space could fit into another with spectacular results.

The University might be the only campus in the U.S. to boast both a romantic organ (located in Rockefeller Chapel), and a baroque organ in Bond Chapel.

Thus, through an unwavering commitment to the preservation of our historic spaces, these upgrades to Mandel’s performance hall and the relocation of the Reneker Organ to Bond Chapel mean both are well positioned to resonate our rich history for decades to come.

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-- By Amy Lee, communications strategy manager

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