2017 AIA Awards - Architecture
Firm: Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects | Partners
Associate Firm: Holabird & Root
Owner: University of Chicago
Sitting on the southern edge of Chicago’s Midway, the Center houses the University of Chicago’s visual arts, film, music, and theater programs, finally uniting the programs under one roof.
A laboratory for creative experimentation and collaboration, the Center anchors the campus and serves as a gateway to the artistic experiences within. Evoking the Great Plains of the Midwest and Chicago’s iconic skyscrapers, the building comprises a 10-story tower and a squat adjacent two-story “podium.” Both are clad in Missouri limestone cut into four-foot lengths and laid as bricks. The material echoes the limestone found on the University’s neo-Gothic structures as well as Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robie House, also located on campus.
Bathed in natural light, the smaller building is lit by north-facing skylights throughout its many creative spaces. Artist studios were designed to accommodate contemporary methods as well as the technical needs of emerging mediums. Three different theaters— proscenium, apron stage, and black box—provide ample space for dance, theater, and music performances.
With views of Lake Michigan and downtown Chicago, the tower connects all floors and has space for teaching and exhibiting the arts plus dramatic stairways and spacious elevators. The top floor is reserved for lectures, performances, recitals, and important events, but unprogrammed space is just as important in the structure. Throughout the Center, students, faculty, and visitors encounter terraces, a courtyard, and common spaces that encourage interaction.
Sharing the site with Midway Studios, sculptor Lorado Taft’s former atelier, the Center connects the university with the cultural offerings of Chicago’s South Side. City residents are invited along for the ride, too, as the Center hosts a variety of mostly free public programs throughout the year.
The new Center offers a vital environment for creating art and thinking critically about the artistic process. It’s a place where many forms of artistic interpretation will overlap and interact as its inhabitants discover the space over time.