University of Chicago Dedicates New William Eckhardt Research Center Designed by HOK
The University of Chicago’s William Eckhardt Research Center brings together the university’s first molecular engineering program and its Nobel Prize-winning physical sciences research groups.
The innovative interdisciplinary research center, designed by HOK, was formally dedicated on Oct. 29 on the university’s main campus south of downtown Chicago. The 277,000-sq.-ft. building, which opened in September, is named for alumnus William Eckhardt, S.M.’70, in recognition of his generous support of the Physical Sciences Division and the university. It includes state-of-the-art laboratories, offices, conference rooms, a 150-seat conference facility and a café.
“We are excited that the William Eckhardt Research Center provides a sophisticated and beautiful home to support our distinctive programs in molecular engineering and astrophysics,” said University of Chicago Provost Eric Isaacs. “The Institute for Molecular Engineering has been successful in building a new model for molecular-level research with broad impact, and this facility will allow for even more ambitious work. Equally significant, this building befits the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics’ long tradition of scientific eminence, and its continuing importance in that field of study.”
“We are proud to contribute to the University of Chicago’s commitment to building on its position as a leader in world-changing research through the development of this new Eckhardt Center,” said Dan Sullivan, AIA, a principal for HOK in Chicago. “This is a significant addition to an historic urban campus and to the global scientific community.”
The center houses the university’s Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics, the Kavli Institute for Cosmological Physics, the Institute for Molecular Engineering and the Dean’s Office of Physical Sciences. Conducting research in this building are world-leading research teams working across multiple disciplines in the fields of chemical, electrical, mechanical and biological engineering as well as the traditional materials and physical sciences. Five floors above grade provide flexibility and infrastructure for a variety of different lab types ranging from optics to chemistry. Two of the center’s seven floors are below grade, enabling the university to isolate highly specialized labs, including the Pritzker Nanofabrication Facility cleanroom and a high bay assembly lab, from vibration and electromagnetic interference.
“The diversity of research that takes place here extends from the smallest scale possible to the largest imaginable, ranging from molecular manipulation to increasing our understanding of the universe,” said Bill Odell, FAIA, LEED AP BD+C, director of Science + Technology for HOK. “This building is a true nexus for transformative, interdisciplinary discovery.”
Carefully planned interaction spaces include a large conference facility, pre- and post-event space, a café, light-filled hallways and highly coveted corner collaboration areas with open views. Each floor is considered a neighborhood, with a home base at the north end providing the largest gathering spaces. On the building’s top floor, an open balcony provides a view of the Chicago skyline to the north.
The design links people to nature and light. James Carpenter Design Associates (JCDA) collaborated as a design consultant to HOK in the creation of the dynamic building enclosure. JCDA’s design of the envelope is based on revealing light as a powerful and deep expression of nature. Each facade is uniquely responsive to the site and its public realm, harnessing light as an organizing principle for the building’s performance and human experience. The design integrates light within the building’s thresholds and public circulation spaces, where it resonates with and informs students’ and researchers’ creativity, discovery, collaboration and exchange of ideas.
To support the center’s mission to drive the research and development of renewable and environmental resources, sustainability is integrated into the building. The facility is expected to achieve LEED Silver certification.
Physically connecting the building to two adjacent research buildings supports collaboration. The main lobby provides a link to a new landscaped quadrangle designed by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates.