Design unveiled for the new Rubenstein Forum

The University of Chicago has approved a preliminary architectural design by New York-based international firm Diller Scofidio + Renfro (DS+R) for the David M. Rubenstein Forum, a new hub for convening and scholarly collaboration to be located at the southeast corner of Woodlawn Avenue and 60th Street.

Designed as a place of intellectual, institutional and educational exchange, the 90,000-square-foot building is organized around the need for a variety of meeting spaces. The program for the building—including the number, size and type of rooms—was informed by focus groups and one-on-one consultation with more than 100 faculty and staff from across the University who regularly plan, host and attend meetings, conferences and events.

The design includes a two-story base and a narrower 165-foot tower. At the base, entrances to the north and south open to the main lobby, a space for informal interactions, a restaurant and the building’s largest meeting space—tentatively named the University Room. The University Room is flexible enough to be used for a large lecture, a panel discussion or a seated dinner, and can accommodate up to 600 people. The tower pairs meeting rooms with informal spaces to create interior “neighborhoods” that can be devoted to a small, intimate academic symposia or combined for larger conferences or meetings.

In addition to the University Room, two other signature spaces feature prominently in the architectural expression of the building. A 285-seat auditorium projects from the tower facing north. Tentatively called the Presentation Hall, it will provide a tiered-seating option for keynote presentations, panel discussions, film screenings or performances, with the trees of the Midway Plaisance and Rockefeller Memorial Chapel as a backdrop. A top-floor, multipurpose space, tentatively named the Lake View Room, will provide ample space and amenities to accommodate a large departmental reception or a multi-day symposium of 50 to 75 scholars, among other types of activities.

“The architecture of the University of Chicago has traditionally sought to inspire, encourage and support the pursuit and exchange of insight and understanding,” said President Robert J. Zimmer. “The Rubenstein Forum will build upon this tradition, drawing from and extending the University’s rich legacy of architecture, while enhancing our convening power as a center of scholarship, education and impact.”

The facility will address a growing need across campus for a facility devoted to hosting University events, said Executive Vice President David Fithian.

“For those of us involved every day in convening groups on campus and in organizing meetings and events for guests from around the world, the Rubenstein Forum fulfills a critical need for the University,” Fithian said. “Too often events hosted by the University are held in other parts of Chicago, and our guests are denied the opportunity to experience the intellectually dynamic and beautiful campus that we have in Hyde Park.”

DS+R’s design addresses the University’s demand for additional flexible meeting space while also incorporating elements that will support focused and successful meetings, such as reliable technology that is easy to use, amenities for convenient and quality foodservice, proximity to informal spaces for spontaneous breakouts with colleagues, and views to the outside. Wherever possible, the design takes advantage of natural light and the surrounding environment, providing a visual connection with the University’s main campus, neighboring communities, downtown Chicago and the lakeshore.

DS+R founding partner Elizabeth Diller explained, “We composed the tower as a stack of ‘neighborhoods’ with meeting and communal spaces of all sizes—both formal and informal, calm and animated, focused and diffuse. The building prompts its varied populations to cross paths with one another where possible to enhance intellectual exchange. The lower floors of the Rubenstein Forum are porous and dynamic with connections to the campus and the community in all directions. As one climbs the building, there is a progressive retreat from the everyday to more contemplative spaces with dramatic views of Chicago and Lake Michigan.”

The Rubenstein Forum is named for University Trustee and alumnus, David M. Rubenstein, JD’73, co-founder and co-CEO of the Carlyle Group, in recognition of his ongoing generosity to the University. The building will be situated next to the Harris School of Public Policy’s future Keller Center and across the Midway from Rockefeller Chapel.