5701 S. Woodlawn to provide home for Neubauer Collegium’s collaborative programs

Work has begun on the adaptive reuse of 5701 S. Woodlawn Ave., which the University of Chicago is renovating to house the Neubauer Collegium for Culture and Society.

Founded in 2012 to support faculty research into complex questions that transcend any individual scholar or discipline, the Neubauer Collegium is already transforming research practices at the University of Chicago. The renovated building will provide a creative environment that will encourage and enhance collaborative faculty research in the humanities and social sciences and make the Neubauer Collegium a destination for leading scholars from around the world.

The extensive renovations of the 1933 Neo-Gothic building will respect and preserve the historic character of the neighborhood while creating dynamic new spaces for the Neubauer Collegium, currently housed on the second floor of the Joseph Regenstein Library. The adaptive reuse is expected to be complete in spring 2015.

The University purchased the 16,000-square-foot building in 2011, and hired Kliment Halsband Architects to undertake a renovation to reflect and support the Neubauer Collegium’s mission. A mix of individual offices and open workstations for visiting fellows, conference rooms and various-sized meeting spaces for active collaboration, and larger convening spaces and galleries for public events will create new opportunities to promote collaborative research, experiment with new forms of interaction, and pioneer new efforts to share emerging research with broader publics, within and beyond the University.

Once completed, the building will exemplify and promote the Neubauer Collegium’s ideals through its interior and exterior design and even its very location, according to Steve Wiesenthal, senior associate vice president for facilities and University architect. “Through large open spaces, and through transparency even when there are enclosed offices, the idea is to encourage both planned and spontaneous interactions,” Wiesenthal said. “The entire ground floor is about welcoming and sharing ideas, and connecting people formally or informally.”

The building’s location, in a transitional zone between the core campus and the smaller-scale residential neighborhood to the northeast, presented a prime opportunity to weave together different segments of the campus community, Wiesenthal added. “The site also ideally bookends a block of Woodlawn Avenue with Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robie House, widely acknowledged to be the most influential work of modern residential architecture in the history of the nation, with a building that’s all about culture and society.”

While the main entrance into the building will remain on 57th Street, the west wing of the renovated building will have French doors opening onto an outdoor terrace that will bring new energy to Woodlawn Avenue.

The renovation project preserves the building’s historic character while meeting modern goals that include accessibility and LEED energy sustainability certification, according to Angela Knoble, project manager for the Neubauer Collegium’s future home.

The front entrance on the northwest side of the building, for example, is being lowered to give street-level access, but the landmark limestone façade is being carefully maintained. And while the electrical and plumbing systems are being updated to increase energy efficiency and the building’s seven-floor library stacks are being removed to increase floor space, many other original elements will be enhanced. These include beautiful floor-to-ceiling wood paneling in the multi-purpose gallery space and elsewhere in the building, the vintage light fixtures and fireplace, and existing staircases.

“The architects did a great job of designing the renovations to maintain the historical feel of the building while equipping it to meet today’s needs,” Knoble said.   

The Neubauer Collegium has already awarded $1.9 million to 33 faculty research teams for projects of one to three years, involving faculty from every discipline in the Division of the Humanities and Social Sciences Division, as well as faculty from Argonne National Laboratory, Division of Biological Sciences, Chicago Booth, the Divinity School, Law School, Pritzker School of Medicine, Chicago Harris, and the School of Social Service Administration. Research projects integrate more than 25 Neubauer Collegium Visiting Fellows from around the world for extended periods of residency at the Neubauer Collegium, facilitating sustained research engagements with UChicago faculty teams.

The Neubauer Family Collegium for Culture and Society is named for Joseph Neubauer, MBA’65, and Jeanette Lerman-Neubauer, in honor of their $26.5 million gift to the University.