The New York-based firm OMA and Chicago-based KOO has been named the winner of an international competition to design an innovative ‘Center for the Arts’ on the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) campus. The center will serve as a gateway between UIC and the world and as a destination for innovative arts and cultural production.
The three finalists were chosen from an international pool of 36 teams that responded to a public request for qualifications. The final decision by the selection committee was reached in consultation with university, college, and school leadership.
The finalists were tasked with producing designs that not only represent the innovative work of the schools in the College of Architecture, Design, and the Arts (CADA), but also contribute to UIC’s mission as an urban public university.
The center will be located on the northwest corner of UIC in a currently vacant location. Visible from the three expressways as well as from downtown Chicago, the OMA/KOO building will be a prominent landmark that bridges the West Loop and campus.
Shohei Shigematsu, a partner of OMA, said the design was inspired by the campus’ original designer, Walter Netsch, by reinterpreting his principles to conceive ‘a unique flexibility’ for the concert hall.
“We are honored to be awarded this project that will serve as a new cultural anchor for the students of UIC and the city of Chicago,” said Shigematsu. “Our design focuses on fostering dialogue between performance and the public—the new building will be a connector between the city and UIC’s urban campus.”
As a public, urban hub for performance and gathering, and a home for the School of Theatre and Music, the project required an 8175-m2 (88,000-sf) building with a 500-seat vineyard-style concert hall and a 270-seat flexible mainstage theater, as well as instrumental and choral rehearsal halls and theater production shops. Also included are supporting facilities, a donor lounge, a small café/jazz club, and exhibition space.
OMA/KOO’s concept design proposes two towers—a student tower facing the campus and opening to a performance park along a nearby bridge, and a public tower looking to the cityscape and opening to a Phase One screening plaza. Large ramps flow from the street to an “accessible topography of performances” on the second level, connecting the outdoor and indoor performances spaces, including the concert hall between the towers, and the Phase Two mainstage theatre. Production spaces line the ground floor.
The center has a translucent, tent-like roof with embedded photovoltaics stretching from and between the towers, covering the concert hall and the mainstage theatre. The colors of the performance space volumes would shine through the translucent areas.
Jackie Koo, founder of KOO, said feedback from the users during a midterm project review was helpful in guiding their design. She said she was particularly impressed with the “high level” of architectural thinking she found in the work of the other proposals.
“It is a great honor both as an UIC alumna and as an architect practicing in Chicago to be part of such an important cultural project,” Koo said. “We wanted our design to transparently showcase the pedagogy of CADA and how UIC is a school that succeeds at educating future creative leaders while being accessible to all.”