Keller Center - Harris School of Public Policy
Architect: Farr Associates (Design Lead & Architect of Record) Woodhouse Tinucci Architects (Collaborating Architect, Interior Designer)
Owner: Harris School of Public Policy, University of Chicago
Location: Chicago, Illinois
Project site: Historic structure or district
Building program type(s): Education – College/University (campus-level)
Leaders of the Harris School of Public Policy sought preservation and restoration of a midcentury masterpiece for their new home on the University of Chicago’s south campus. The Commission on Chicago Landmarks identified the Edward Durell Stone design in 1963 as contributing to the historic district of the Midway Plaisance—the spine of the 1893 Columbian Exposition. The transformational redesign integrates policy-inspired solutions to better connect with the community, place policy on display, and serve as an exemplar in sustainable design with LEED Platinum and Living Building Challenge Petal certifications.
The decorative limestone building with a five-foot tall imposing plinth was in need of full restoration; social repair to the adjacent underserved neighborhood, which the original building turned its back to, was also needed. One north-facing entry was replaced with new welcoming paths that erode the plinth, inviting passage on all sides. Encircling rain gardens soften pedestrian experience with sculptures, seating, and other architecturally significant pieces salvaged from the original building. Patterned bird-safe glazing wraps the rooftop addition and opens the façade at key locations, inviting passage through the building.
"The opening of the floor plates to create a larger light-filled community atrium makes the interior expansive. This design intervention teaches us an important lesson on how to transform these large floor plate-existing buildings into healthy, desirable, light-filled spaces." - Jury comment
The expansive concrete structure had restrictive floor heights and offered little connection to the exterior. Extensive daylight analyses helped balance perimeter windows with daylighting in the east and west two-story atria. A larger central four-story atrium was carved into the building and serves multiple programmatic functions.
Educational in function and composition, the Keller Center serves as a learning laboratory in which policy students and impactful research can witness real-world challenges and solutions through design. Thoughtful material selections led to healthy modifications of global manufacturers’ material ingredients. Partnerships and specification of salvaged ash wood during the design process catalyzed positive economic and social impacts in adjacent neighborhoods, directly showcasing full-circle sustainability and the mission of the Harris School of Public Policy.