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Blurring the lines: University of Chicago North Residential Commons

Gold Award: The University of Chicago’s new Residential Commons is part campus, part community.

June 07, 2017 |

The new residential commons building has been designed with the specific purpose of opening up to the surrounding neighborhood. Tom Harris Photography.

The new North Residential Commons on the University of Chicago campus is more than just a place for students to eat and sleep when they aren’t in class or studying. The 400,000-sf residence hall offers students a place to live that blurs the lines between a campus and a community. 

Plazas, gardens, walkways, and courtyards connect four separate buildings that range from one to 15 floors. A single-story dining hall, equipped with floor-to-ceiling windows for abundant natural light, overlooks a central quad. 

Eight “houses” accommodate 800 undergraduate students. Each house has its own hub, a three-story common area where students can gather, study, and relax. Also included are classrooms, music practice rooms, and 10,000 sf of ground-level retail space. A reading room resides on the top floor and offers views of the city and Lake Michigan.


An example of one of the three-story hubs. These hubs can be used by the students for anything ranging from studying to relaxing. Tom Harris Photography.


The Building Team used BIM to simplify the project’s complex geometry. Through the use of the model, the team was able to determine that the original knife-shaped edges of the exterior precast panels needed minor adjustments. The edges were susceptible to chipping, so the top edge of the panels was changed to a more blunt-shaped edge.

The building was designed to reflect the university’s distinctive housing system, where students of all years live and work together to achieve a higher level of social and academic success.

“More effective than the design was the extraordinary effort to meet the owner’s and users’ needs,” said Building Team Awards judge Peter Isaac, Vice President with Brailsford & Dunlavey, and a BD+C 2016 40 Under 40 honoree. “It is clear the Building Team worked in close coordination with the University of Chicago.”


Building Team – Submitting firm, general contractor Mortenson Construction Owner University of Chicago Architect Studio Gang Architects Structural engineer Magnusson Klemencic Associates Mechanical engineer dbHMS

General Information – Size 394,020 sf Cost $161 million Construction time July 2014 to September 2016 Delivery method Design-build


Return to the 2017 Building Team Awards landing page

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