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The University of Chicago’s newest residence halls are designed to be more like home

Abundant common spaces give students more chances to interact.

September 12, 2016 |

The Campus North Residential Commons, located at the north edge of the University of Chicago's campus in the Windy City's Hyde Park section, is meant to create a “gateway” for students and the community alike. Image: Tom Harris Photography/courtesy of the University of Chicago

On Saturday, Sept. 17, the University of Chicago will open its three-building, 394,000-sf Campus North Residential Commons that the college and its AEC partners are hoping can serve as a “front door” to the college.

The $150 million Commons, designed by Studio Gang Architects and built by Mortenson Construction, is situated on 195,480 sf at the north edge of campus. Its towers range from five to 15 stories tall, peaking at 164 feet. The towers have a total of 800 student beds within 252 single rooms and 193 double rooms that are organized into eight three-level “houses,” named after prominent members of the university’s community, including Dean John W. Boyer, who has led the college for the past 24 years.

“We designed an architecture that really feels like home for the students, but that simultaneously opens to and engages with the community,” Jeanne Gang, founding principal of Studio Gang Architects, told UChicagoNews.

The towers are connected by a second-floor common space. There are five music practices rooms and eight pianos; and two classrooms for campus-wide use. There is 23,603 sf of resident-only landscaped courtyards located above ground level. And a 48,791-sf green roof is set up to retain rainwater on site (the building is shooting for LEED Gold certification).

The top floor includes a multipurpose room, 14 group study spaces, and a 24-hour reading room. The first-floor area offers 12,000 sf of retail space for vendors Heritage Bicycles, Insomnia Cookies, TimBuk2 (which sells backpacks and messenger bags), and Dollop Coffee Co., whose shop is at the center of the building.

Other amenities include 118,150 sf of landscaped quadrangle, streetscape, and plaza. The university worked with the city to turn one street, Greenwood Avenue, into a pedestrian landscape connection linking the street on which the Commons sits with several athletic and arts centers on campus.



The 450-seat Frank and Laura Baker Dining Commons within the residential hall is organized so that students sit at tables whose names correspond to their residence “houses.” Image: Steve Hall ©Hedrick Blessing.


Within the Commons is the 28,000-sf Frank and Laura Baker Dining Commons, named after an alumnus, Frank Baker, who last year made a $7 million gift to the university to endow undergraduate scholarships and internships for lower-income students of outstanding promise. The dining room’s 450 seats are along tables designated for each of the Commons’ houses.

The building’s design lets in maximum natural light and fresh air into interior spaces. Each student’s residence comes equipped with automated controls to account for variable sun exposure as part of maintaining comfort.

The building’s external envelope consists of 1,034 white precast concrete panels (made from 110 different molds) hung on an aluminum curtain wall. And this building includes the first major application of a two-way radiant slab heating and cooling system in the Chicago region.

The other Building Team members on this design-build project were Magnussen Klemencic Associates (SE), dbHMS (MEP/fire protection engineer), David Mason & Associates (CE), Hanbury (associate architect), Hood Design Studio (landscape concept designer), Terry Guen Landscape Architects (landscape architect), Threshold Acoustics (acoustical designer), Lightswitch Architectural (lighting designer), Jensen Hughes (code consultant), Jenkins & Huntington (elevator consultant), and Transsolar (sustainability consultant).


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