University of Chicago opens Campus North Residential Commons

Residential and dining facility designed by Studio Gang Architects creates new campus gateway

The University of Chicago’s Campus North Residential Commons and Frank and Laura Baker Dining Commons will open for students on Sept. 17, along with street-level retail shops and amenities that will benefit the Hyde Park community.

Designed by Studio Gang Architects, a design practice led by renowned architect Jeanne Gang and based in Chicago and New York, the project will enhance campus life for University students and create a new campus gateway that embraces its surroundings.

“This is a beautiful and inspiring building. Jeanne Gang and her colleagues have made an outstanding contribution to our campus, to architecture designed to connect individuals and build communities, and to the relationship of our campus to its surroundings,” said President Robert J. Zimmer.

Located on the northeast corner of the UChicago campus, the 400,000-square-foot Residential Commons will be home to 800 undergraduate students and includes the Baker Dining Commons, University classrooms, offices for Campus and Student Life, outdoor green spaces and 10,000 square feet of retail.

Building on College Housing tradition

“This facility creates an elegant and welcoming new home for students and an important resource for our community,” said John W. Boyer, dean of the College. “The College is stronger when students can live and learn in communities that foster curiosity and intellectual conversations and serve as foundations for lifelong friendships.”

UChicago’s College Housing program brings together undergraduate students into houses of approximately 80 to 100 students. The College houses give students the opportunity to develop close social and academic networks for all four years of their experience at UChicago.

In keeping with the College Housing tradition, each house in Campus North has been named for members of the University community who have provided support for the College and its housing programs. The new house names include Dr. Robert A. Behar House, Brady W. Dougan and Laura E. Niklason House, Rogers Family House, Alexis and Steven Strongin House, Immanuel Thangaraj House, Tina and Byron Trott House, and Francis and Rose Yuen House. In addition, John and Barbara Boyer House was named to honor the service of Dean John W. Boyer, who has led the College for the last 24 years.

“UChicago has a long-term goal to house more students closer to campus, and this new and vibrant living space furthers that goal,” said David Clark, assistant vice president for campus life and associate dean in the College. “The building was designed to reflect the University’s distinctive College Housing program, and we are excited for our students to move in this fall.”

The Campus North Residential Commons include single and double rooms for first- and second-year students, and private apartments with kitchen and bathroom facilities for third- and fourth-year students seeking a more independent living experience. Each of Campus North’s eight College Houses include a three-story common area where students can come together to gather, study and relax. The building also features living space for senior faculty members serving as resident masters and resident heads for each of the houses, who will help cultivate vibrant house communities.

Celebrating the University’s scholarly tradition, the reading room and multi-purpose common rooms on the top floor provide 24-hour study and social spaces with panoramic views of the Chicago skyline, Lake Michigan, the campus and the surrounding neighborhoods. Other common spaces include classrooms, practice rooms for musicians, community rooms for programs and events, and two residential courtyards.

Advancing academic and campus life through design

Throughout its history, UChicago has commissioned leading architects to help shape a campus that brings together contemporary and traditional design. UChicago is committed to architecture that advances inquiry and practice, enhances student life and cultivates a scholarly community that has impact beyond its physical boundaries.

“Underscoring the University’s commitment to academic success and sustainability, all of the systems of the building work together to ensure high performance standards for both the students and the architecture,” said Jeanne Gang, founding principal of Studio Gang Architects. “We designed an architecture that really feels like home for the students, but that simultaneously opens to and engages with the community.”

The contemporary facade consists of custom white, pre-cast concrete panels, with subtle arcs that recall the University’s history of Gothic and neo-Gothic architecture. The Residential Commons’ three towers range in height in response to the campus and neighborhood context, with the five-story tower scaled to the residential neighborhood to the east and the tallest structure, reaching to 15 stories, attuned to the busy commercial context of 55th Street to the north.

The University worked with the city of Chicago to convert Greenwood Avenue into a new pedestrian landscape connection linking 55th Street to the Henry Crown Field House and Cochrane-Woods Arts Center, which houses the Smart Museum of Art and the Department of Art History, as well as the Gerald Ratner Athletics Center and Ellis Avenue to the west. The Commons creates welcoming spaces for students and University neighbors, including elevated, landscaped courtyards for students and a public landscaped plaza at street level surrounded by active programming, including retail, classrooms and a café.

Campus North was delivered as a design-build project and realized in partnership with Mortenson Construction. Studio Gang Architects was the architect of record, and Hanbury served as the associate architect.

Innovative sustainability considerations

The design features an integrated approach to environmental sustainability that brings maximum natural light and fresh air to the interior spaces. The tallest tower is also positioned to capture north-south light, naturally improving the overall energy efficiency of the entire complex. The building's structure incorporates an innovative, radiant slab mechanical system, which supplies heating or cooling appropriate to the conditions of the rooms. Each student's residence is provided with automated controls to account for variable sun exposure as part of maintaining comfort. It is the first major residential application of this system in the Chicago region.

Varying in width, each window is tuned to the specific use of its interior space, enhancing the building’s highly sustainable mechanical systems. Glass surfaces are patterned with a ceramic frit that helps birds navigate around the structure and minimizes bird strikes. Custom grilles on the residential windows allow students to fully and safely open their windows for fresh air and ventilation.

Students have access to two landscaped courtyards that are located above ground level to provide beautiful, readily accessible outdoor spaces for residential students. In addition to these courtyards, expansive green roof systems help to retain 100 percent of rainwater on site, diverting it from the Chicago sewer system to prevent overflows. Used cooking oil from the Baker Dining Commons is pumped into a central tank and recycled into biofuel.

New dining and retail offerings

Located within the larger Campus North Residential Commons, the Baker Dining Commons offers a light-filled gathering space featuring floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking a central quadrangle, as well as two private dining rooms equipped with smart technology. Each of the College Houses has a dedicated house table where students can socialize and dine on a diverse selection of fare, including halal, kosher, vegetarian and vegan options, as well as options made without gluten, all prepared to order at nine food stations.

Campus North also will be home to new dining, coffee and retail spaces for the neighborhood. Insomnia Cookies specializes in delivering late-night cookies; Chicago-based Heritage Bicycles sells custom, locally built bikes and offers service and repairs; and Timbuk2 features messenger bags, backpacks and other wares for riders. Locally based Dollop Coffee Co. will offer Metropolis coffee, house-made sandwiches and pastries, and pies from Hoosier Mama Pie Company.