The McCormick Tribune Center, a campus building under the ‘EI’ next to the famous IIT buildings by Mies van der Rohe in Chicago, opened on Tuesday. After work in Los Angeles and for Prada, this is the first ‘real’ building by OMA in the USA.
OMA received the commission after winning an international design competition in 1998. An important element of the design, and the reason it was probably chosen, is the 150-metre-long, stainless-steel, soundproof tube that encircles the elevated trains that cross the campus. This tube not only muffles the noise of the trains but also unifies in one building full of activities the two halves of the campus – education buildings on one side of the traces and student residences on the other side. OMA situated most of the required functions beneath the tracks. The routes that criss-cross beneath the tracks are incorporated into the building as circulation routes linking the different spaces. Housed in the building are a restaurant, lecture theatre, meeting rooms, offices for student societies, bookshop, coffee bar, post office and supermarket. Up to now these facilities were scattered across the campus. The new building stands right beside Mies's Commons Building, which, after restoration, will house a central restaurant that serves the whole campus.
The building boasts various innovative materials and wall finishes. Most the internal and external surfaces are covered in different types of glass. Double-layered soundproof glazing with in places an orange-coloured honeycomb filling, for example, is used for much of the exterior. The interior includes a series of 200 signpost icons designed in collaboration with graphic designers 2×4. The signpost lettering features a font originally designed by Mies van der Rohe. And Koolhaas's homage to the modernist – designer of the campus and also dean at IIT for a long time – doesn't end there. A 7.5 metre-high portrait of Mies graces the entrance. Meeting rooms sport colours inspired by the colour palette of Lily Reich, the designer who worked with Mies. The patterns embroidered onto the curtains are based on drawings of trees by Mies. The building's grid of steel I-beams follows the campus grid established by Mies. And so on.
When OMA won the competition the jury had high expectations of the scheme's potential to generate an urban heart for what is a rather open, empty campus: 'Rem Koolhaas recognizes that a primary imperative facing the IIT campus is to create an urban intensity with a relatively low density of population. His innovative design creates an urban condition within the campus itself. It brings the students together not only physically, but spiritually.' Whether the new centre will indeed form a dynamic and heavily used heart on campus is now the question of course. But conditions certainly seem favourable.