University of Illinois at Chicago, Academic and Residential Complex (UIC ARC)

Architecture firm: Solomon Cordwell Buenz (SCB)

Owner: American Campus Communities (ACC)

Location: Chicago

Category: Merit

Project site: Previously developed

Building program type(s): Mixed-use

Soaring enrollment at the University of Illinois at Chicago prompted this project, the university’s first living-learning community. Designed as a nod to the work of Walter Netsch, the campus’ original architect, the complex addresses the university’s critical needs while also serving as a vital bridge between its architecturally rich past and its innovative future.

The complex arose from a 10-year master plan aimed at reshaping the university’s physical development. Though it was originally a commuter school, the university has experienced increased enrollment, prompting the need for new academic and residential facilities. A $95 million public-private partnership allowed the team and university leadership to explore merging two campus building typologies into one development.

At 200,875 square feet, the new building is divided into a 554-bed residence hall for undergraduates and a two-story academic building. The academic portion contains a series of formal and informal learning spaces, including two flexible classrooms, two active learning classrooms, and two sizable turn-to-team classrooms. Break-out spaces are interspersed throughout the building to encourage collaboration between students and encourage interactions with faculty.

“This is a great urban project and not typical in a university setting. Its classrooms, where a lot of attention was clearly paid, are optimized for learning.”  - Jury comment

The campus masterplan was also developed by Netsch, who developed a concentric organization of the campus, like a stone dropped in a pond, where low-rise academic buildings stand at the center and taller student-support buildings ripple out into Chicago. The complex’s massing adheres to this idea, with its academic side oriented to the academic core and its 10-story residential tower toward the greater city.

Though it’s inspired by the university’s architectural legacy, the design for the complex departs from its larger brutalist vocabulary. Its siting offers optimal solar orientation that mitigates heat gain, while extensive daylight studies shaped the design of the complex’s exterior fins that draw in natural light while blocking glare. Expanses of glass on the ground floor and throughout the academic spaces are a stark contrast to other buildings nearby. On a lush, landscaped public plaza, passersby are treated to glimpses of student activity in the complex.

Its facade and interior designs reflect the geometric movement displayed in Netsch’s famous “field theory” and distinctive architecture. To maintain consistency with existing campus buildings, the team employed precast concrete but with a lighter and more transparent approach. The team worked closely with a subcontractor to develop three adaptable pre-cast forms that could be manipulated to produce the 70 panel types that comprise the facade, the modularity of which allowed for a streamlined construction sequencing.

In its construction, the complex demonstrates how integrated planning can be joined with a P3 delivery method to address the trio of academic, institutional, and developer goals. With a lack of state funding for capital projects, it is a model for innovation despite a stymied state system.

Additional information

Project attributes

Year of substantial project completion: 2019

Gross conditioned floor area: 200,875 sq. ft.

Project team

Architect: Solomon Cordwell Buenz (SCB)

Engineer - Civil: TERRA Engineering

Engineer - MEP: Elara Energy Services

Engineer - Structural: Thornton Tomasetti

General Contractor: Pepper Construction

Landscape Architect: site design group

Interiors, Academic: SCB  Interiors,

Residential: Sixthriver Architects

Acoustical, AV: Threshold Acoustics, LLC

Façade access: Lerch Bates Commissioning: dbHMS


Lori Cappucio, AIA (Chair), SmithGroup, Washington, DC

Omar Bailey, AIA, Shepley Finch, Phoenix

Vince Gonzales, AIA, Seattle Public Schools, Seattle

Kandis Larsen, AIA, Integrus + YGH, Spokane, Wash.

Sindu Meier, AIA, William Rawn Associates, Milton, Mass.

Image credits

University of Illinois at Chicago- Academic and Residential Complex (UIC ARC)-04

Steve Hall

University of Illinois at Chicago- Academic and Residential Complex (UIC ARC)-05

Steve Hall

University of Illinois at Chicago- Academic and Residential Complex (UIC ARC)-06

Steve Hall

University of Illinois at Chicago- Academic and Residential Complex (UIC ARC)-07

Steve Hall

University of Illinois at Chicago- Academic and Residential Complex (UIC ARC)-03

Steve Hall