Food for Thought

Once a training center for Olympic athletes, the University of Chicago's Bartlett Hall now serves as an elegant dining facility for students
August 11, 2010

Originally constructed in 1904 as the training facility for the U.S. men's Olympic team, the University of Chicago's Bartlett Hall, a neo-Gothic limestone structure in the heart of the campus, last year was transformed into a 550-seat student dining hall.

The $15.5 million adaptive reuse project "had to compete for resources and attention" with three glamour projects on campus, according to Curt Heuring, university architect. They were: a new $52 million athletic center designed by Cesar Pelli, with Chicago's OWP&P; a $54 million dormitory from Ricardo Legorreta, which opened last year; and a new graduate school of business designed by Raphael Viñoly, scheduled to open next fall.

"The sensitivity with which the renovation was done was terrific," says Heuring. "You have these large projects by Legorreta, Pelli, and Viñoly, and this little renovation project has stolen some of the limelight because it was done so well. It's a credit to the skills of the architect and the entire team."

The project, designed by Bruner/Cott & Associates, Cambridge, Mass., was conceived as part of the university master plan, which called for more student housing in the heart of campus, as well as additional athletic facilities. "The pool facilities, among other things, were outdated," says Heuring. "We were building the new dormitory on campus, but the students needed a place to eat." So the university planners asked: Why not let Bartlett be their dining hall?

The timing of the two projects thus became crucial. "If you opened the dining hall without the dorm being open, it wouldn't succeed, and the dorm couldn't open without a dining hall," Heuring says.

Working in tandem

To facilitate the process, the projects shared equipment and locally based personnel — the same project management manager, The Rise Group, and GC, Pepper Construction Co.

Having both dining hall and preservation experience in the same office gave Bruner/Cott the edge in the selection process. Heuring was confident in the choice, having previously worked with the firm on the adaptive reuse of Harvard's Memorial Hall performance space into a 600-seat dining hall.

"We wanted to reinvigorate the building, but be respectful and celebrate what was there," says John Rossi, senior planner with Bruner/Cott. "In a sense, we created a new building. It has a whole new use, and occupies a new place on campus."

Blending with tradition

One of the first things the Building Team had to worry about was the addition of a two-story steel and limestone-clad loading dock. "The Department of Interior guidelines say that when adding on to a historic building, you shouldn't make the addition look like the old building," says Heuring. "But in this case, with the site of the building and the prominence of the building's corner location, we felt it needed to appear seamless — like it always had been there."

The Bedford limestone veneer was removed from the area of the building that was being added on to and used to clad the addition. The harvested limestone also was used in the repair of spalled stone on other parts of the exterior. Where new stone was required, crews used limestone from the same quarry that the original limestone came from. The building's existing limestone veneer was cleaned and repaired.

The two large loading doors were designed as gothic bi-folding steel doors, clad in richly stained oak with bronze studs. The doors echo the entry gates of the old Alonzo Stagg Field, the football stadium that once stood on the site.

The wood doors and stone portico were designed to create an unobtrusive, two-bay entrance for deliveries that blends with a newly constructed quadrangle that lies adjacent.

Blurring the line

Once plans for the addition were in order, the Building Team turned its attention to deciding which of the existing elements of the athletic center to weave into the new dining hall.

The team then sought to continue the seamless transition of the building on the inside. "There was a time when architects tried to distinguish the old and the new," says Heuring. "We purposely blurred the line between the new work and old. If you go there now, it's not clear that it was recently renovated."

In addition to keeping memorabilia, such as time clocks, as part of the décor, the original basketball floor, made of inch-thick maple, was retained for the dining hall floor.

Perhaps the most striking element of the reconstructed facility is the suspended running track that encircles the dining hall. Engineers initially slated the old track for demolition because it did not meet current live-load standards. Instead of demolishing it, the team reduced the live load by cutting the usable space on the track. Millwork, with ductwork running through it, was installed on the track, occupying half of its floor space. Meanwhile, mechanical enclosures were placed in two of corners. The track, which offers a view of the entire dining hall, now is an observation deck and a space for students to study and "hang."

The existing building had only one interior grand stairway serving the second-floor gymnasium. The stair, which actually is a divided stairway flanking a three-story lobby, needed to be preserved and upgraded to meet code. "There was nothing about the stair that satisfied code," says the university's Heuring. "Bruner/Cott worked closely with the city on compromises that preserved the stair and met code."

Because the stairway and lobby were intended to be open to the new dining area, Bruner/Cott designed a separation wall enclosure at the second-floor dining hall to maintain the openness to the dining hall and views back to the stair hall.

The wall incorporated a high-tech two-hour rated glazing material, clad with a fire-resistant treated white oak matching the intricately paneled staircase walls. The wall mimicked an existing wooden screen wall separating the gym from the stair hall.

Two interior exit stairs also were inserted into corners of the building to meet code, replacing two exterior fire escapes, which were added to the building soon after its construction.

Lighting the stairway is a two-story high-stained glass window designed by Edward C. Sperry, an associate of Louis Comfort Tiffany. Valued at $7 million, the window was painstakingly removed and is undergoing a $2 million restoration.

An intimate dining setting

Inserting foodservice facilities into the structure in an unobtrusive manner called for more innovation and creativity. Foodservice occupies parts of three floors: basement cold storage; first-floor loading dock and production kitchen; and second-floor servery, where 70% of the food actually is prepared.

"The market concept is more of a performance style," says Bruner/Cott principal Dan Raih. "So much of the preparation and cooking used to be done in the back of the house. Now it's marked by out-front preparation and display cooking. It's completely modern."

To avoid penetrating the building's sloped roof, five large exhaust fans were discreetly positioned on the limited flat areas of the roof. Existing arched gothic windows were used for all of the required louver openings. Kitchen exhaust hoods and services were tucked under the suspended running track and inside a new elevator core used to transport food.

In all, the dining hall serves 2,500 meals a day. "Studying is serious business here," Raih says of the university. "Meal time is a time for students to relax and where a lot of social relationships develop. The university wanted the dining hall to be a place with great food where students could gather."

Overall, Heuring says Bartlett Hall passes with flying colors. "We are pleased and proud we were able to recycle an old building to a new use," he says. "We've shown it can be cost-effective and wise to refurbish older buildings."

Construction Costs

General conditions: $1,450,000
Demolition 350,000
Earthwork 432,000
Concrete 350,000
Stone and masonry 1,100,000
Metals 323,000
Carpentry and millwork 459,000
Roofing 61,000
Partition systems 495,000
Doors/windows/hardware 721,000
Finishes 354,000
Specialties 115,000
Foodservice and equipment 1,450,000
Furnishings 321,000
Elevators 240,000
Mechanical 3,120,000
Electrical 1,100,000
Plumbing 634,000
Fire protection 149,000
Building automation system 276,000
Total $13,500,00