The University of Chicago campus is often described as an oasis in the city of Chicago. The historic Main Quadrangles were, in fact, designed to be just that — a sanctuary for faculty and students to come, think, and explore the world of ideas. The initial campus plan and architectural styles were chosen specifically to foster that sanctuary concept, and that idea continues to influence campus planning.
In 1890, University founders set a vision for the University that would transform higher education. That vision included retaining Chicago-based Henry Ives Cobb to design a campus that would embody the goals of the institution. Throughout the ensuing years, the University campus has grown significantly, now encompassing 160 buildings on nearly 217 acres on Chicago’s southeast side, near Lake Michigan and bounded on the east and west by historic urban parks.
While the University’s location has contributed to its sense as an oasis, it also presents a series of challenges for people trying to find it for the first time or the occasional visitor.
Reaching its final stages this past fiscal year was the realization of an ambitious plan to literally make connections with our surrounding communities and global visitors. The goal of a new signage plan was to orient and direct visitors to the University and its Medical Center from various points of approach from our vast interstate highway system; to guide them to campus points of entry and parking facilities; and provide pedestrian-level campus navigation.
“In the past, we were an intentionally well-kept secret. It was felt that people who really wanted to come here would find us,” said Richard Bumstead, associate director of campus environment. “This new comprehensive way-finding system represents a complete shift in attitude. We strongly feel we should be connected to — and part of — the city.”
As the University strives to become more integrated into the City of Chicago fabric and more welcoming to visitors, FS set out to thoroughly examine the various generations of signage that existed inside and outside our campus buildings. We are in the midst of a four-phase project to implement vehicle and parking signage and to create cohesive (and easily updated) pedestrian directional signage. The results, for drivers and pedestrians alike, is an easier way to navigate and a more welcoming entry to view, enjoy and pursue inquiry on our historic campus.