By Sarah Galer
By Lloyd DeGrane

When we first got here, we spent an hour wandering around the building discovering things.”
—Erin Ewald
College fourth-year

A puzzle sits half-finished on a table in the airy lounge of Jannotta House, one of eight houses that divide the new complex into intimate communities. First-years trickle in and out, worrying about their schedules and whispering with newly minted friends about the emerging social scene.

Down the hall, a group of worn-out Chautauqua House orientation aides sprawl out in their lounge, joking about how often they’ve already locked themselves out of their rooms.

It’s the kind of easy interplay the light-filled residence hall was meant to encourage. The eight-story complex was designed from the inside out, to connect students to the surrounding community and to each other. A short walk through the Midway Winter Garden to main campus and the new 24-hour study space at Harper Memorial Library, the hall includes new dining commons and a convenience store, both of which are open to the public.

“The transparent and open feeling of the building really connects it to the heart of campus and its Woodlawn neighbors, creating a new, vibrant center of student life south of the Midway,” says Kimberly Goff-Crews, Vice-President for Campus Life and Dean of Students.

The connection to the community takes many forms, including wide-open views of the surrounding area. Looking out of the two-story glass walls in the residence hall’s fifth-floor reading room, one can see the red roofs and stately towers of the University campus, all the way to Lake Michigan and the shimmering downtown skyline.

Following the completion of several projects along the Midway in the past year and the anticipated opening of the Reva and David Logan Center for Creative and Performing Arts in 2012, the new dorm is helping transform South Campus into a hub of activity, much as the Max Palevsky Residence Commons did for North Campus.

Open Space Builds Communal Feel

The concepts of transparency and openness guided the building’s architects, driven by the University community house system. The result was eight houses that each span four floors: Chautauqua, Crown, DelGiorno, Halperin, Kenwood, Oakenwald, Jannotta, and Wendt.

Erin Ewald, a resident assistant at Crown House, says she marvels at the sense of community the building creates, with details like an airy internal staircase that connects the floors of her house and its two-story lounge.

“I can stand on the seventh floor and see and hear what others are doing in the fifth-floor lounge,” says the College fourth-year. “When we first got here, we spent an hour wandering around the building discovering things.”

To increase student interactions, there are internal staircases within each house, lofty house lounges, two large building commons, two courtyards, a reading room, music practice rooms, and a street-level café and convenience store.

Katie Callow-Wright, Director of Undergraduate Student Housing, says student feedback was key to the design process. It resulted in the addition of such amenities as a single-user community bathroom in each house, in addition to the big community bathrooms; a communal area for the residents’ 800 mailboxes to create a social space; a variety of room types and designs throughout the building; and quiet, visually pleasing study areas.

“As an individual student living in this big building of 800, you actually have lots of opportunities to feel like you are connected to the larger whole,” says Callow-Wright. “You can see other social interactions happening throughout the building and that accessing those sorts of interactions is quite organic and easy for people living there.”

Building a Home South of Campus

Lawrence McEnerney, Director of University Writing Programs, and his wife Cathe serve as Resident Masters in the new building. They see their job as helping to build a community, along with Resident Masters John Lucy, Chair and the William Benton Professor in Comparative Human Development, Psychology, and the College, and Suzanne Gaskins.

“Interacting with students, for us, will mean mostly providing a feeling of home, a sense of belonging, to this building, university, and city, to those who want our help,” says McEnerney. “For some students, it won’t matter that we are here. For some, it will matter a little. For some, it may matter a lot.”

The expansion of South Campus is important to unifying the Chicago campus. Its growth is a fulfillment of planning from the early days of the University, which was truncated during the Great Depression that began in 1929.

Several South Campus construction projects have been completed in the last year, including the new 61st and Drexel police station, the renovation of the Law School, façade restoration of SSA, and the new Winter Garden on the Midway. Several more projects are in the works, including the Logan Center.

Callow-Wright says the result is an exciting mixed-use community for academics, residents, and the arts.

“Our students tell us they really like the opportunities they have to be connected to the larger neighborhood community and the larger campus community.”

Originally published on September 28, 2009.