UChicago architecture embodies new ideas
New book traces the beauty and diversity of design on campus
By Steve Wiesenthal
Photo by Tom Rossiter
“ ... Just as new ideas continually spring forth from students and scholars, the campus will continue to evolve and renew itself.”
Associate Vice President and University Architect
The following is excerpted from the book, Building Ideas: An Architectural Guide to the University of Chicago, which is now available through the University of Chicago Press. Steve Wiesenthal is UChicago's Associate Vice President and University Architect.
Since its founding in 1890, the University of Chicago has been a home for the life of the mind. From students at the Lab School to the most distinguished scientists and scholars, people explore, discover, innovate, and grow here, and a spirit of inquiry sets the stage for imagining and disseminating great ideas.
The founders of the University of Chicago understood the importance of the built environment. They knew it would make a strong statement about the character of the University and signal to the world what kind of place this would be. When they adopted Gothic architecture, they instantly conveyed the sense of history, seriousness, and intellectual fortitude found at universities such as Oxford and Cambridge.
As the campus grew, the University continued to view architecture as a powerful force for shaping interaction and building community. Design and site decisions took into consideration the connection between the intellectual and the physical and the fact that ideas are made memorable by locating them in space. Entering the reading room of the Joe and Rika Mansueto Library, one senses the expanse of intellectual possibility beneath glass and sky while appreciating the warmth of wood floors and furniture that grounds one to earth. Embarking on a journey of creative discovery in the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts, one hears the echo of music while glimpsing the creation of art within studio spaces. Architectural images spark the imagination, connecting the physical and intellectual worlds throughout campus.
Today the University of Chicago is in the midst of a historic transformation. In the first two decades of the 21st century, the number of buildings that have been built or are under construction represent 40 percent as many buildings as were constructed during the entire prior history of the University. It is our challenge, responsibility, and aspiration to carry out this expansion in the service and spirit of the University’s education and research mission.
To make the most of this period of transformation, we have identified four design principles that are deeply tied to the University’s core values.
Foremost is the creation of buildings and spaces that promote the exchange of ideas.
We aim to design settings that encourage interaction among faculty, students, and others across disciplines and at multiple levels, from laboratory to ground-floor café to the next green quadrangle.
Second is the stewardship of historically significant spaces and places. While any campus should accommodate growth and change, new interventions can enhance the rich context of the existing environment and be designed with flexibility to imagine the needs of future generations.
Third is a commitment to improving environmental sustainability through the design and operation of all physical resources. The act of building and operating many millions of square feet in the Chicago climate is unavoidably resource intensive but can be done in a way that is responsible and considerate of human health, locally and globally.
Finally, there is the need to continually strengthen the identity and character of our distinctive campus. The values, ethos, and culture of the University of Chicago, vigorously debated and passionately protected, are made tangible in limestone and landscape, glass and garden, portals, and pathways.
The University has maintained a tradition of architectural innovation and quality in the hands of notable architects, ranging from Henry Ives Cobb to Rafael Viñoly, from Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue to Eero Saarinen, from Ludwig Mies Van der Rohe to Ricardo Legorreta, from Helmut Jahn to Walter Netsch, and many others past and present. The result is a diverse layering of architectural and landscape materials, attitudes, and ideas about what makes an exceptional campus.
As a place conceived for the vibrant exchange of ideas—a home for the life of the mind—the University of Chicago campus will never be finished. Complete, yes, but just as new ideas continually spring forth from students and scholars, the campus will continue to evolve and renew itself.