Lofty Ambitions

Lofty Ambitions

Work starts next year on the research tower.
Courtesy Perkins+Will / Northwestern Memorial Hospital

Northwestern Memorial Hospital picked Perkins+Will to design the successor to Bertrand Goldberg’s Old Prentice Women’s Hospital, the subject of a high profile and ultimately unsuccessful preservation fight. Construction on the $370 million first phase could start as soon as 2015, finishing by late 2018 or early 2019. Prentice is currently under demolition. The new biomedical research facility, still unnamed, could eventually reach 1.2 million square feet with the addition of a 40-story tower in its second phase of construction. Northwestern has not yet released the cost of phase two.

Perkins+Will Design Principal Ralph Johnson described the biomedical research facility as “a high-tech loft.” About half of the space is devoted to wet-bench open lab area. The project team originally proposed two large lab groups, but Northwestern requested they break it into three smaller lab “neighborhoods” of eight or nine labs per group, Johnson said. The other adjustment was creating a north-south connection between those neighborhoods.

“We went beyond that and created two to three story atriums on each side,” said Johnson. “Each floor connects, so it acts as a kind of seamless lab plate. Good research buildings have as much connectivity as possible.”


Renderings show glassy sky lobbies linking multi-story lab groups, which comprise the majority of the building’s space. In the labs themselves, 15-to-16-foot floor-to-floor heights create lofty, sloping ceilings that let in natural light. The interior spaces “borrow light through the work stations,” said Johnson.

The building’s reliance on highly transparent glass is also meant to help integrate it into the urban fabric. “We don’t want to use a dark or reflective glass,” said Johnson, “so the building looks lighter so you can get some hint of what’s going inside instead of just being a mute box.”

The building pulls back off East Superior Street, providing a landscaped passageway to East Huron Street. (Vacant land across Huron Street is slated for a new Northwestern medical building at some point in the future, although no date or details have been released.) An airy and publicly accessible lobby and mezzanine will feature vendors as will a kiosk along Fairbanks Court.

Working off James Gamble Rogers’ original University plan, Perkins+Will stressed connectivity to other buildings on Northwestern’s downtown medical campus. North-south connectors link the new biomedical facility to neighboring buildings in the Streeterville neighborhood, including the adjacent Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago. “There will be a kind of continuous bridge network,” said Johnson.

In November, Northwestern Memorial Hospital released three finalist designs for its new biomedical research center. Northwestern spokesman Alan Cubbage told the Chicago Tribune, “the combination of the elegant design and the functionality of the floor plans were key.” The other two finalist teams were Goettsch Partners with Ballinger, and Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture with Payette.