Standing out among the bland office parks and faceless warehouses along I-90 just northwest of Chicago, the Smart Factory houses a prototypical showroom of advanced machine tools used to fold and shape sheet metal. Positioned strategically near Chicago O’Hare International Airport, it occupies a parcel of land reclaimed from an abandoned corporate campus.
Guided by the client’s belief that good architecture improves all workplaces and, therefore, its products, the factory positions the company in one of its most important markets. In Chicago, the client can present its vision to customers in the Midwest, meeting them at their doorstep to catalyze a new era of industry.
The building is offset in two volumes, the higher of which faces an expanse of the highway and contains the showroom for a German machine tool and laser manufacturer. Eleven laser-cut Vierendeel trusses spanning 140 feet contain the machines, some of which were used to cut and fold them. A central catwalk and meeting spaces are woven into the webbing of trusses, providing clients an overlook of the machines and processes below. A control room connects all of the elements to the column-free machine hall and provides space for welcoming customers and informing them of the latest technological advances.
Interiors are defined by straightforward industrial finishes of steel, charred wood, polished concrete, and expanded metal. The factory’s curtain wall glazing on the north and south sides, and corrugated Corten steel on the east and west sides, presents an image that is as transparent as it is opaque.
The second volume will soon offer spaces for a lobby, meeting rooms, an open office, and auditorium arranged around a central courtyard. Its form is unified by a gently raked roof slope from north to south, further integrating it into the surrounding wetlands.