Tribune Architecture Critic Blair Kamin Evaluates Roosevelt’s New Wabash Building

On May 5, Roosevelt University formally opens its new Wabash Building, starting a new chapter in the university’s history.  Built to LEED specifications, the “vertical campus” will instantly become the second-tallest academic building in North America, and it is already a prominent addition to Chicago’s skyline.

This week, Chicago Tribune architecture critic Blair Kamin presented a long, thoughtful consideration of the building. A few of his comments follow, but click this link for the full review.

….it’s easy to notice the tower’s skyline impact. It is a taut, almost monolithic piece of architectural sculpture that fully takes advantage of its prime position across from Chicago’s front yard. Like the Trump International Hotel & Tower, it assumes ever-shifting identities as the sun and clouds play on it. It is at once a foreground shape and a background building, its south front creating a perfect backdrop for the Auditorium’s muscular tower.

To his credit, [VOA designer Christopher] Groesbeck has avoided the trap of an architectural object that stands apart from the city around it, a plus that’s evident at the building’s Wabash Avenue entrance.

There, the tower’s base is flanked by glassy “shoulders” that approximate the height the Auditorium and match the meticulously-restored, sliver-thin facade of the old Fine Arts Building Annex at 421 S. Wabash. The two historic bookends help the tower make a successful transition from sky to sidewalk.

There is also much to like inside — and much to wonder about.

The first five floors are devoted to student services and activities. Floors 6 to 13 are reserved for thoroughly modern classrooms and labs, as well as offices. Floors 14 to 31 house student apartments, with a total of 633 beds.

It’s a logical mix, embedding functions that don’t require lots of natural light, like the fitness room, toward the building’s bottom. At the same time, the ground-floor lobby and the dining hall above it manage to be expansive, light-filled and boldly-colored spaces — no match for the Auditorium’s great interiors, but still able to project the image of a “new Roosevelt.”

Higher up, the best spaces are tiered classrooms that should make students feel like they are suspended over the Loop. The apartments are unremarkable save for their views, which can be counted upon to make many a prospective student exclaim “I want to go here!”

Whether that will happen is among the questions to which only time and experience can provide answers: Have the architects successfully isolated the thumping presence of fitness areas from the lecture halls above them? Will students wreak havoc with the building’s recycling chute, which is among the features expected to win the tower a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification? Will the quadrangles in the sky lead to the serendipitous encounters of campus life?

The new building is thus Roosevelt’s high-stakes laboratory into the world of green design. If you are interested in learning more about sustainable design as it relates to buildings and communities, the Roosevelt seminar SUST 320 Sprawl, Transportation, and Planning (offered this this fall as a hybrid course meeting in Schaumburg and online) may be of interest. For more information on these or any other of our courses, please visit our Sustainability Studies website, call 1-877-277-5978 (1-877-APPLY RU) or email applyRU@roosevelt.edu.

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