Inside (and Outside) the New Rush Hospital

Rush University Medical Center Tower

Rush University has spent the last few days showing off its new hospital at 1650 West Harrison Street, perched on the edge of the Eisenhower Expressway (I-290) just outside of The Loop.  There was a formal ribbon-cutting ceremony on December 8th, and a smattering of television coverage following.  Unfortunately, with yet another Illinois politician being sentenced to prison time, Rush’s building didn’t get all of the attention it deserves.

While other area hospitals have made it their primary focus to suckle at the teat of federal research grants, or to build ever-bigger atrium waterfalls to lure in cancer patients and the fat insurance company checks that come with their long-term care, Rush has built something Chicago actually needs — a massive emergency room.

If, like me, you’ve ever waited for five hours in Northwestern Hospital’s “emergency” room cradling a loved one in pain, only to give up and take a taxi to another hospital, you’ll welcome this new facility.

Even to a layman,  the building is quite nice.  Big, open spaces.  Lots of flat screens everywhere.  The tangles of tubes and wires and machines that go “ping”  have been replaced by Star Trek-looking displays, Transformer-style furniture, Jetson-era pneumatic tubes, and even a fleet of robots toiling away in the tunnels and sub-basements.

It’s intended to be used in what disaster planners call an “NBC” event — Nuclear, Chemical or Biological.  Essentially, a terrorist attack on downtown Chicago.  It has 60 emergency room “pods” that each can treat two patients.  Each pod can be isolated from the others and the rest of the hospital to prevent the spread of contamination.  The ambulance bay doubles as a mass decontamination chamber, capable of handling hundreds of people at a time.  Should several hundred infected/contaminated/irradiated people show up on Rush’s doorstep, the lobby has equipment drops throughout so it can be converted into an extension of the emergency room.

As someone who lives downtown, I feel much better having seen what I did on my tour of this new building.  Though, in a sense I’m a little horrified that we didn’t have something like this before, and that we don’t have a second one as a backup.

While various areas and even individual rooms have been named after donors, it feels like the hospital is waiting for a large bequest so it can name the entire building.  So for right now, the building is just being referred to as “The Tower.”

Here are the details, followed by a huge photo gallery:

  • Designed by Perkins + Will
  • 14 stories, including a 13.
  • Ribbon-cutting: December 8, 2011
  • Patients move in January, 2012
  • Giant reverse atrium in the lobby with trees and moss.  When it rains or snows outside, it rains or snows inside this snapshot of the world outside.
  • Though the building’s design resembles the city’s beloved Prentice Women’s Hospital, which Northwestern wants to turn into a gravel lot, I have been personally assured by the architect who designed Rush’s hospital that it was not inspired by Prentice.  He says it much more closely resembles his work on the children’s hospital in Baltimore.
  • We got 22 megabits download and 16 megabits upload when testing the wifi in the lobby.  W00t!
  • The building has five green roofs.
  • The base of the building is emergency rooms and offices.  The squarish podium is where the work of medicine is done.  The butterfly floors on top are patient beds.
  • Every patient room is identical.
  • Anywhere you see a flat exterior wall on the butterfly structure is a patient room.  The curved parts are gathering and support spaces.
  • 42 operating rooms.
  • 10 delivery rooms.
  • 102 post-op recovery positions.
  • 304 patient rooms.
  • 24 extended stay patient rooms.
  • Ambulance bay can handle six ambulances simultaneously.
  • The entire hospital is filled with operating room-quality air.
  • Sanitized air constantly washes down from the ceiling, over patents being operated on, reducing the chances of infection.
  • Movable frosted glass panes in patent room doors allow nurses to check on patents without disturbing them.
  • No more paperwork when arriving at the hospital!  Computer terminals on wheels allow people to type their information in once when they arrive, and eliminates the need for redundant paper the rest of their stay.
  • Each room has multiple computer terminals so that doctors and nurses don’t have to compete or wait.
  • Patents are assigned a tracking number upon entry. That number is displayed on screens throughout the hospital so that family members can see where their loved one is and what’s being done to them.
  • Twenty-two robots armed with lasers (for navigation) handle the drudge work of moving supplies around the hospital.
  • The robots also deliver meals.
  • Dirty laundry is moved around the building by giant pneumatic tubes.
  • Couches in patient rooms slide out from both sides so that family members can sleep.
  • More than 90% of the building’s construction debris has been recycled.
  • Condensation from the building’s HVAC system is collected to generate 1.3 million gallons of fresh water each year.
  • Much like in a prison, nursing stations are strategically placed so that the largest number of patient rooms can be visually monitored, while reducing response time.



Author: Editor

Editor founded the Chicago Architecture Blog in 2003, after a long career in journalism. He can be reached at

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  1. It’s nice to know that Rush will have a facility like this suitable for disasters; but what about the rest of the time? Will this be a functioning Level I trauma unit open on a daily basis and part of the local trauma network, which means they’re bound to get a certain percentage on uninsured patients? Especially given that Rush is on the west side?? University of Chicago dropped out of the trauma network precisely because it didn’t want to take in uninsured patients (the money it would have to spend for that is reserved for research instead; that’s the mission UC chose, but it’s also not meeting its responsibilities to the neighborhood in that respect). Rush dropped out of the trauma network, too, and dumped all those emergency patients on Cook County and Mt. Sinai, then was even more arrogant in its decision to close off Paulina … all of which was awful at the time but might not have been that terrible in retrospect, considering how old its former ER in the oldest building is. It’s needed replacement for a long time.

    Still, the question remains: with that nice, big, brand-new emergency facility about to open, does this mean that Rush is finally returning to the trauma network and will begin pulling its weight again in terms of community responsibility, or not — and if not, WHY NOT??? Without trauma network participation, who will use that ER between disasters?

    Post a Reply
    • Editor

      What was the answer when you asked Rush about this?

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  2. Gee thanks TIF money! Hopefully they will accept the uninsured considering the hospital was built with their tax dollars too.

    Post a Reply
    • Editor

      1986 called and wants its misplaced outrage back.

      All hospitals are required by law to accept patients regardless of their ability to pay. The law is called the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act, and was passed 25 years ago.

      Post a Reply
      • The law only requires hospitals to treat patients until they are stable, not well. I don’t know what Rush’s policy is at the moment. Rush’s chief medial officer David Ansell is a leading advocate of patient rights and equitable treatment for all and on the board for Cook County Hospital but the realities of private hospital funding are the realities. There are huge financial pressures that make seemingly ethical facilities do all kinds of risk and cost shifting that end up in manifestly worse results for patients. You are correct to cite the emergency law (which was passed in response to a study done by David Ansell when he was a doctor at Cook County) but uninsured patients still die at 2x the rate of insured patients with similar injuries when seeking emergency care. The emergency law should prevent most of the discrepancy but does not.

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