IIT Innovation Center (Ed Kaplan Family Institute for Innovation and Tech Entrepreneurship)

Architecture firm: John Ronan Architects

Owner: Illinois Institute of Technology

Location: Chicago, IL

Category: Holistic Design

Architect's statement

The building sector is responsible for 30 percent of global energy consumption, 35 percent of CO2 emissions and half of all landfill waste—we need to find a new way to build. The idea of the dynamic facade on the IIT Innovation Center, which responds to climate in real time by modulating the amount of incoming solar energy, is to make the architecture do more so that systems can do less. The design of the Innovation Center on the Mies campus at IIT is innovative in its own right, and forward-thinking in its approach to sustainability. The second floor of the building, which cantilevers over the ground floor to provide sun shading, is enclosed in a dynamic facade of ETFE foil cushions which can vary the amount of solar energy entering the building through sophisticated pneumatics. The ETFE foil is one percent the weight of glass and gives the building a light, cloud-like appearance. Mies described his architecture as “skin and bones” construction. The new innovation center updates that tradition by leveraging new materials and advanced technology.

Contractor's statement

Collaboration and teamwork are core elements of our culture. Our approach integrates people, systems, business structures and practices to harness the talents and insights of all participants in a way that reduces waste and optimizes efficiency. For the Kaplan Innovation Center, we welcomed the opportunity to work with the Illinois Institute of Technology. Our Senior Project Manager and VDC Coordinator, both IIT alums, looked forward to returning to the IIT campus and the Architecture Department. The familiarity of the campus and the desire to provide the best possible center for future IIT students motivated them, and the rest of our team, to focus on how best to achieve the innovative design within budgetary and quality benchmarks. We quickly aligned all team members around collaboration and information sharing strategies to establish an easy, open communication. With our integrative process, we were able to maximize the use of VDC for estimating, constructability, system coordination, prefabrication, scheduling, site logistics, and field layout. The technologically-advanced facade offered a unique opportunity to understand new materials and utilize the latest construction techniques, taking virtual design to new levels to achieve the aesthetic, economic, functional, and schedule parameters for the project

About the facade

The second floor of the building, which cantilevers over the ground floor to provide sun shading, is enclosed in a dynamic facade of ETFE foil cushions which can vary the amount of solar energy entering the building through sophisticated pneumatics. The facade is comprised of four layers of ETFE foil which create three air chambers within the facade assembly. The two outer layers of ETFE are fritted with a staggered dot patterns which are offset from each other; the inner layer can be moved back and forth pneumatically, bringing it together and apart with the outer fritted layer to modulate the amount of incoming solar energy. This movement is achieved by introducing air into one chamber and removing it from the adjacent chamber, which relocates the fritted inner layer. When the inner layer is pressed together against the fritted outer layer, the dot patterns overlap to reduce light transmittance. When the inner layer is moved away from the outer layer, it increases light transmittance. Controlled via automated building system controls or overridden manually, the dynamic facade can adapt throughout the day to changing weather and daylight conditions in real time to minimize energy usage and maximize daylighting potential.

"This project offered an innovative use of advanced materials in conjunction with mechanical systems to combine active and passive strategies to improve building performance with an aesthetically striking and contextually enhancing design." ~ Jury statement

Additional information

Project attributes

Year of substantial project completion: 2018

Construction documents phase: June-October 2016

Project delivery: Construction Manager at Risk

Building Area - Total Gross Square Feet (GSF): 72,000

Building Area - Net Assignable Area (NAA): 56,000 sq ft

Cost - building cost per square foot: $357

Cost - estimated: $28.8 million

Cost - actual: $28.8 million

Cost - site development: $2.3 million

Cost - total construction: $28.8 million

Project team

General Contractor: Power Construction Company

Engineer - Structural: Werner Sobek Stuttgart

Engineer - MEPFP: dbHMS

Engineer - Civil: Terra Engineering

Landscape: Terry Guen Design Associates

Lighting: Charter Sills

Security: Jensen Hughes

Programming: Shepley Bulfinch

ETFE Subcontractor: Vector Foiltec


Anthony Hauck, Chair, Hypar AEC, Waltham, Massachusetts

Phillip Bernstein, FAIA, Yale School of Architecture, New Haven, Connecticut

Desiree Mackey, GEI Consultants, Denver, CO

Sera Maloney, The Foth Companies, Lake Elmo, Minnesota

Natasha Luthra, Jacobs, Philadelphia, PA

Image credits

IIT Innovation Center_announcement 01

Steve Hall

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Steve Hall

IIT Innovation Center_announcement 04

James Florio

IIT Innovation Center_announcement 03

Steve Hall

IIT Innovation Center_announcement 05

Steve Hall