A Half-Dozen Things You (Probably) Don’t Know About Roosevelt University’s Vertical Campus


I don’t recall much about the view from the window of my dorm room in college. It was the fourth floor of the blocky, plain vanilla Hudson Hall at the University of Missouri-Columbia.

What I can definitely say is there wasn’t much comparison to what I saw last week during a tour of Roosevelt University’s “vertical campus” at 425 South Wabash Avenue. It was a stunning view of Lake Michigan to the east from somewhere north of 20 stories high. Another guy in my group sighed, shook his head and said, “Man, I need to go back to college.”

It’s bright blue and appears to reach toward the sky in a wave-like pattern. It stands 469 feet tall. From the ground up, the building takes on different forms. The first five floors are used for student life and student services. From floor six through 13, there are classrooms, labs and offices. Floors 14 to 31 contain student housing.

It’s quite a different view you get if you’re an undergrad student lucky enough to enjoy an eastern exposure in one of the Roosevelt U.’s upper floors. Designing the campus presented architects Joe Dietz and Al Migon of VOA with some obstacles. They were clearly up to the challenge—the building is functional, attractive, and very, very green. Here then, are a half-dozen things you probably didn’t know about the Roosevelt University vertical campus. And yes, you will be responsible for knowing this for the final exam.

1 Take your seats, class. No detail was too small in the design of the rooms where learning takes place. Tables in some classrooms have industrial-grade wheels so the instructors can change the configuration of the room. In the lecture halls, blackout shades can be raised and lowered automatically. Seats are “self-correcting” so when you stand up, a hidden spring pulls the seat straight and under the table. The result is a cleaner look.

2 Projecting out. Riders on the elevated CTA Loop trains at night will eventually see images promoting university programs and art installations. The projector is on the upper section of the open-air atrium in the cafeteria. Images will appear on the three-story atrium wall, which can clearly be seen from outside the building just at track level.

3 The weight. Each stairwell entrance has an 800-lb. piece of glass next to the door. It was a complicated installation, not to mention a heavy one. But, the glass serves as a reminder that stairs are there and to be used—especially when students only need to go up or down a couple of floors. This minimizes use of the elevator and saves energy. Extra credit if you know why the glass is so heavy. (No skipping ahead or reading your Monarch Notes!)

4 Green day. The building is LEED Gold certified. It achieved that status with lots of glass, allowing in a significant amount of natural daylight. The paint used has low levels of volatile organic compounds, and recycled material was used wherever possible (including fly ash in the concrete).

5 Rooftop farming. Naturally, the design of the campus includes a green roof. Actually, not just one, but three, at the very top, as well as on the 16th and 5th floors. The lower green roof also includes herbs and edible plants used by the cafeteria staff.

6 Paperstone, cork and bamboo. A perfect example of green building design at the macro level is evident in the Marshall Bennett Institute of Real Estate in the vertical campus. John DeVries was a director of the school and a champion of sustainability. He pushed for, and got features like cork floors, bamboo millwork, and countertops made out of compressed paper—known as paperstone.

Extra credit: why is the glass next to stairwell doors so heavy? It’s super-thick and rated for two hours of fire—before melting.

Author: Bill Motchan

Bill Motchan is a writer and photographer, and a former resident of the West Loop. He can be reached at bill@ChicagoArchitecture.org.

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