Roosevelt University is in the midst of a campaign to elevate its status as an institution of higher education. The centerpiece of this venture is the newly constructed Roosevelt University Tower (435 South Wabash Avenue) where the educational standard is physically manifested in the architecture and design. Chuck Middleton, Roosevelt University’s President set the stakes high for the quality of both academics and architecture saying, “We are building the quintessential 21st Century university structure and it’s going to give us a dramatic new image on Chicago’s skyline.” The high expectations and bold program produced an innovative building that does not disappoint.
Roosevelt, as an institution, has operated in the Adler and Sullivan designed Auditorium Building (430 South Michigan Avenue) since 1947, and has grown to 7,000 students in 126 degree programs. The increasing sophistication of the curriculum and growing student body demanded the expansion and upgrading of the school’s facilities. A $129 million investment was made into a contemporary building that would illustrate Roosevelt’s evolution from a college into a university. The project manifested a graceful glass tower compelling in both function and form.
The Roosevelt University Tower functions as a “vertical campus,” organized by the utilitarian needs of a contemporary university housed in a signal structure. The first five floors consist of administrative and student life offices. The following 13 floors are filled with classrooms, labs and offices arranged by academic program. The final 13 floors at the top of the building are student housing and residences with unobstructed views.
The building continues the University’s commitment to sustainability with LEED certification, and the height of 469 feet makes it the tallest educational building in Chicago. The new building adds value for Roosevelt University by adding space for expanded classrooms, and modernizing equipment, while consolidating university services in one location. The proximity of services should serve as a compelling environment for cross-pollination of ideas and innovation. Yet this gives students limited reasons to leave the building which may prove to be isolating within a metropolis.
The utility of the Roosevelt University Tower still allowed flexibility and creativity in the visual design. With the primary audience being young prospective students and the building being central to an advertising campaign, there was a commercial need for the building to be aesthetically bold. As a result, the Roosevelt University Tower is an attractive and distinctive structure, breaking the rigidity of right-angle modernism with a playful form.
Chicago architecture firm VOA Associates, which led the design team, took a positive step beyond its sleek, yet conventional style by taking the right cues from other Chicago architecture and the circumstances of the site. Lake Michigan is evoked with an aqua-blue color palette and fluid form. The tower’s distinguishing sides are undulated glass waves vaguely similar to the wrinkled glass facade of the Spertus Institute (610 South Michigan Avenue). The Roosevelt University Tower also separates its elevators and utility functions from the remainder of the spaces, a design scheme used in the former Inland Steel Building (30 West Monroe Street) over 50 years ago.
The building faces south, creating a rich relationship with Auditorium Building, for which it serves as backdrop and counterpoint. Indeed, the Roosevelt University Tower demonstrates the leap that architecture has made in the century since the Auditorium Building was constructed. Yet the new tower holds true to the innovation and mixed uses of its senior counterpart.
The Roosevelt University tower is an exemplary building. The utilitarian functions of a modern urban university organize the building naturally. The aesthetic form is honestly compelling and moves Chicago architecture forward. The entire expansion of Roosevelt University adds to the concentration of universities in the South Loop, continuing the transformation of downtown into a mixed use district. The building raises Roosevelt’s status as a serious university and provides its students with a lot to take pride in. The new campus is a welcome addition to Chicago’s educational and architecture landscape.