The University of Chicago began life as a copycat of Cambridge, with a reliably spectacular but unoriginal Gothic theme to breathe an august ivory tower feel into the young university. Since then it’s played host to elite architects from all over the world, with wildly varying results: Eero Saarinen’s infamous Woodward Court (“small rooms, cinderblock walls, and incredibly poor acoustics,” and I would add that each floor had its own distinct foul odor); Cesar Pelli’s airy Ratner Center; Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s adequately Miesian SSA building; Edward Durell Stone’s New Graduate Residence Hall, which no one likes but me; and so forth.
Next up is Jeanne Gang, whose new three-dorm project, to house 800 students, will replace the unbeloved Pierce Tower (“a major breakthrough on the anti-slab front"), designed by the great Harry Weese with tiny rooms and open lounges to encourage socialization the university is not known for.
Gang’s design, announced today, takes some inspiration from Weese—"one of the things Harry Weese did well was people-watching,” Gang said. But it takes Weese’s lounge idea, shared in Pierce within each dorm “house” and vertically integrates them into “cascading house lounges.” The design works horizontally as well—first-year students in doubles around the lounges (when getting to know people is at a premium) and radiating out in a spectrum of age and need, out to “super-singles” and apartments with kitchens, an arrangement that works well in the dreadfully dull but extremely liveable Stony Island dorm, for older students. Curbed Chicago’s Ian Spula has more details, including the estimated cost and more on Gang’s inspirations.
And, as with the new Logan Center, the University seems to be realizing that views of the city from the cloistered neighborhood are finally something to be desired; the panoramic top-floor reading room may surpass the new Mansueto Library as the most desirable spot for the one thing that unites U. of C. students.