Harper Court exhibit showcases architectural guide, UChicago history

University Communications

Many people may not be aware of how the University of Chicago’s innovative architecture has kept pace with its other intellectual achievements.

An architectural photo exhibition now on display at the new Harper Court office tower on 53rd Street celebrates the University’s rich history. It highlights dramatic photos from Building Ideas: An Architectural Guide to the University of Chicago, written by Jay Pridmore, photographed by Tom Rossiter and published in August 2013 by the University of Chicago Press.

The Harper Court project is the continuation of an exhibition last fall at Clayco and Forum Studio, an architecture and construction firm located in the historic Jewelers Building in Chicago. Curator Philip Barash organized “Building Ideas: A Selection” as one part of the firm’s rotating series called “Arts and Science.”

Clayco and Forum Studio reached out to Senior Associate Vice President and University Architect Steve Wiesenthal with the exhibition idea, and recently the firm donated the framed photographs as a gift to UChicago to share with the Hyde Park and University community.

“Putting these photographs into a brand-new space really grounds the Harper Court building to the institution as a whole and its architectural legacy,” said Alice Kain, Campus Art Coordinator for the Smart Museum of Art, who helped bring the photo exhibition to Harper Court.

Eight of the 22 photographs in the exhibition are now installed in the lobby at the Harper Court, with the rest of the works displayed on the fourth and ninth floors. The installation, said Kain, “is a great way of connecting this new building to the main campus, reminding people of the architecture they might not see every day.”

Building Ideas chronicles the evolution of the University’s campus and its engagement with the major architectural movements of the 20th and 21st centuries. As the book’s title implies, the University has incorporated forward-thinking ideas into its intellectual and structural framework since its inception as a set of Gothic-style quadrangles in 1890.

The University of Chicago has commissioned and worked with some of the world’s leading architects, from Mies van der Rohe to Rafael Viñoly. One of the photographs in Building Ideas shows this characteristic diversity with a long view of 57th Street. The image captures the Gothic Mitchell Tower, the brutalist design of the Joseph Regenstein Library, and the futuristic glass dome of the Joe and Rika Mansueto Library reading room, all in the same photograph.

Rossiter shot the images for the book and said that they were designed to give viewers an intimate sense of place and attachment. “I think that’s what resonates with most people,” he said at a reception held at Clayco and Forum Studio. To get the 124 images used in the book, Rossiter estimates that he shot about 9,000 photographs.

“The University’s architecture is so important,” he said. “But I think that most of the city of Chicago has no idea what a significant campus it is. Most aren’t aware of the scale and magnitude of what is going on there.”

Wiesenthal echoed this sentiment and emphasized the importance of connecting with Chicago’s architectural innovators. “Clayco and Forum Studio seemed like an obvious choice to work with Building Ideas,” he said. “They opened a new office in Chicago recently and have brought a great energy to the city,” he said.

Wiesenthal noted that the Building Ideas exhibition, which was open to the public during the Chicago Architecture Foundation’s Open House Chicago and by appointment, provided UChicago with an opportunity to share what’s going on in Hyde Park.

The videos from the Clayco and Forum Studio exhibition can be viewed online at the University of Chicago Architecture website. Readers of the Building Ideas book can access the videos by scanning QR codes in the book with a smartphone.

Rossiter noted that the videos provide a virtual tour to people around the world who are interested in learning more about UChicago. “Part of what it means to be a renowned university today is reflected in the architecture,” he said. “And anyone could use the book as a guided tour of the campus; they’ll be able to hear the architects explain the spaces in their own words.”