OMA and Jacobs reveal design for the Discovery Partners Institute’s new riverfront home in Chicago

No Place Like Dome

OMA and Jacobs reveal design for the Discovery Partners Institute’s new riverfront home in Chicago

Aerial rendering of the new riverside headquarters for the Discovery Partners Institute. The new building will anchor Phase 1 of The 78, an ambitious 62-acre redevelopment scheme set to transform a swath of vacant land in Chicago’s South Loop. (© OMA and Lucien R)

Late last week Illinois Governor JB Pritzker and the University of Illinois System unveiled the highly anticipated design for the new Chicago riverfront headquarters for the Discovery Partners Institute (DPI). Conceived by a design team led by Dallas-headquartered Jacobs and the New York office of OMA led by Partner Shohei Shigematsu, the curvilinear eight-story structure will serve as a first phase anchor of The 78, at mixed-use innovation district that in the coming years will rise along a 62-acre swath of land—currently the site of long-disused rail yards—along the Chicago River between the Loop and the city’s Chinatown.

Slated to break ground in 2024, the dome-like glass and steel facility will yield more than 200,000 square feet of office, classroom, lab, and event space for DPI and its university and industry partners. Notably, it will also be the first element of The 78 to begin construction as part of the first development phase of the Related Midwest–helmed $7 billion megaproject, which ranks as one of the most ambitious real estate development schemes in Chicago history. Phase 1 plans for the sprawling ground-up, transit-oriented neighborhood (SOM developed the master plan) were unveiled by Related Midwest in early 2020.

In addition to DPI headquarters, also envisioned as part of Phase 1 will be 1.5 million square feet of office space spread across a mix of high-rise and “loft-style” buildings; 700,000 square feet of residential space, with 20 percent of that earmarked for affordable housing, and 100,000 square feet dedicated to eateries, shops, hotels, and fitness locations. Related Midwest donated the 1-acre site to DPI, which is part of the U of I System, for its new South Loop headquarters.

rendering of a glazed, curvy building rising above a green space
DPI Headquarters, view from 15th and S. Wells Street (© OMA and
rendering of rounded glazed entrance to a building
DPI Headquarters, main entry (© OMA and

“Already DPI has helped launch our state’s COVID-testing system, is searching for COVID-19 and other viruses in our wastewater, and is training hundreds of students for careers in tech – and has a plan to spread the opportunities equitably,” said Pritzker in a statement. “This futuristic design from OMA/Jacobs matches our ambitions.”

Per the design reveal announcement, Illinois is committing $500 million in capital funding to launch DPI and establish regional Illinois Innovation Network hubs at universities throughout the state. DPI currently operates out of an office space at a Harry Weese–designed high-rise at 200 South Wacker Drive.

“DPI cultivates opportunities for research, learning, and innovation to diverse communities, requiring an architecture that adapts to continued growth of its programs. We wanted to provide a building that fosters interdisciplinary interaction and experimentation,” said Shigematsu. “Programs are organized to maximize efficiency and potential to converge, and variegated layouts are configured around a central zone of collisions. A soft, transparent form and public ground floor offer an open invitation for the community to the building and its network.”

rendering of a dome-like building along the chicago riverfront
DPI Headquarters, Chicago riverfront view (© OMA and

The design of the transparent, horizontal metal panel–clad building is meant to convey a sense of openness that fosters connections between DPI and the neighborhoods flanking the development site; its “multidirectional form is impartial to any one specific direction to engage communities on all sides nearby riverfront, future phases of The 78, and the surrounding communities,” a press announcement elaborated. As mentioned by Shigematsu, the base of the building, with its main entry fronting 15th Street and Wells-Wentworth Street, will be dedicated to public space including a café, auditorium, and multipurpose exhibition and classroom space. On the floors above is a stacked program dedicated to classrooms, office space, and experimental and computational labs.

Topping the structure is a rooftop event space ringed by an outdoor terrace while the lush street-level landscape, featuring a sculpture by Richard Hunt, is open and accessible to the public. Back inside, a soaring social atrium, described by OMA as an “active collision zone,” at the heart of the building will serve as a central gathering place for researchers, students, and others to connect outside of a more formal lab or classroom setting. “Within the atrium, carefully coordinated stairs and meeting rooms forge loosely but intentionally defined paths and destinations to draw in and encourage users to navigate areas outside of their disciplines,” OMA explained.

rendering of an atrium in a busy office building
DPI Headquarters, central atrium (© OMA and Lucien R)
program axon illustration
DPI Headquarters, program axon (© OMA)

“As an anchor of The 78 and a building with world-class architecture, the Discovery Partners Institute will uphold Chicago’s tradition of innovative design,” added Ann Thompson, executive vice president of architecture and design at Related Midwest and board chair of the Chicago Architecture Center. “Related Midwest is proud to collaborate on this important project, and we welcome the way it stands as a prototype for how equitable design transforms communities.”

Joining OMA in the role of lead design architect and Jacobs, which is serving as prime and executive architect as well as lab planning consultant, on the larger project team are a number of firms including IDEO (innovation consultant), Thornton Tomasetti (facade and structural engineer with Stearn Joglekar), Living Habitats (landscape architect), KOO (interior design and FFE), Collins (civil and geotech engineer), Atelier Ten and UpFront Regenerative Design (sustainability consultants),and Primera and Jacobs (MEP/FP).

AN will circle back with updates as DPI’s landmark new home at The 78 begins to take shape.