Williams Tsien Wins Chicago Competition

June 5, 2007

by Violet Law

Editor's note: To listen to a five-minute interview with architects Tod Williams and Billie Tsien about the University of Chicago commission, click below.

Click the play button to begin | Click here to download

Renderings Courtesy Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects
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Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects, the husband-and-wife team based in New York City, bested a who’s-who roster of competitors to design a new arts center for the University of Chicago, the school announced last week. The other finalists were Fumihiko Maki and Associates, Hans Hollein, Morphosis, and Studio Daniel Libeskind.

The university’s Reva and David Logan Center for Creative and Performing Arts will be located on Midway Plaisance, at the southern edge of campus. This area was the site of Chicago’s 1893 World’s Fair and is now home to mid-century Modern masterpieces by Mies van der Rohe and Eero Saarinen.

Although Williams and Tsien have had much success designing museums and campus buildings, they say this project is the most challenging commission to date because it demands a design that will nurture collaboration between the arts. “We’re trying to break the paradigm of these different, separate pursuits, ways of making art,” Tsien explains, “and make a new place that encourages a complete dissolution of these boundaries.”

Their building’s exact size is yet to be determined, but Williams and Tsien’s design features five interlocking boxy structures, clad in glass, that afford separate but connected spaces for the various arts. A glass-encased lobby will serve as a “mixing box” where users of the building’s theaters, studios, and exhibition space can cross paths. A six-story tower at the complex’s center will house lecture halls and rehearsal rooms, as well as recreation amenities including a yoga-nap room, ping-pong tables, and a half-basketball court. Topped with a partially retractable roof, the tower’s upper floors can be turned into a terrace with a view of Chicago skyline and Lake Michigan.

Known for their meticulous attention to materials, as evidenced by buildings such as the American Folk Art Museum in Manhattan, Williams and Tsien propose that the base of the main building and tower be clad in large-panel stone to reinforce the structure’s dignity. Above these spaces, a glass curtain wall will be illuminated at night to project the building as a beacon and allow glimpses of the creative life inside. Expected to cost $100 million, the arts center is scheduled to open by 2011.



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