Northwestern: Go for the Music, Stay for the Architecture

Northwestern University Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Center for the Musical Arts

Unless you actually attended Northwestern University or are into college football, most Chicago city-dwellers don’t think of Evanston or its academic anchor very often.  But if you like architecture, there are more and more reasons to ride the L to our neighbor to the north.

One of those reasons is the new Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Center for the Musical Arts.  It’s perched on the edge of Lake Michigan and the cutting edge of architecture, and designed by friends-of-the-blog Goettsch Partners.

The building opened over the weekend, and both delighted and amazed visitors.  Not only because of the way it serves its intended musical purpose, but because of the way it embraces its location, showcases the lake, and is such a departure from the campus’ brutalist past.

Enjoy the photographs below, followed by the GP press release.

Northwestern University Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Center for the Musical Arts



New Building Provides a Signature Facility along the Lakefront

CHICAGO – (September 25, 2015) – Architecture firm Goettsch Partners (GP), along with Northwestern University, celebrated the formal dedication of the new Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Center for the Musical Arts yesterday on the university’s Evanston, Illinois campus. The new building is located south of Pick-Staiger Concert Hall and the Regenstein Hall of Music, on the southeastern edge of campus.

Sitting on a prime site fronting Lake Michigan and a new arts green, the building serves as a signature facility. Designed to wrap and connect with Regenstein Hall, the building enables the School of Music to consolidate its programs for the first time ever. The dynamic, Z-shaped plan of the building mass defines the eastern edge of the arts green then jogs to the western edge of the lake. A large atrium divides this form, providing the main entry and gathering space and offering clear views of the lake. All spaces met rigorous acoustical requirements, including the opera rehearsal and choral recital rooms. The recital hall is the building’s crown jewel. Featuring a 40-foot-high glass wall, the space sets performers against a dramatic backdrop of Lake Michigan and the Chicago skyline.

“The recital hall is the most important space in the building,” said James Goettsch, FAIA, GP chairman and CEO. “It represents the culmination of all the architectural and acoustical design work in the classrooms and practice rooms. It’s a space that puts you in the moment of the performance.”

“The intensely collaborative process between the school and the design team throughout the project led to a building that is thoroughly conceived and developed,” added Michael F. Kaufman, AIA, LEED AP, GP managing partner for the project.

The main recital hall double-skin glass wall at the back of the performance stage supports the highly sensitive acoustic performance requirements of a concert hall. The design needed to consider the overall acoustical challenges of a monumental 42’ x 40’ glass wall and the resultant acoustical reflections within the recital hall. The vertical supports of the glass wall are hung from above and achieve their slenderness by using highly tensioned horizontal cables that are anchored to the recital hall’s massive concrete side walls. Solar/blackout shades are hidden above the ceiling, contained within the accessible cavity to avoid interfering with the acoustics of the hall. The inner glass wall is tilted inward to prevent an echo from being heard by the audience. Acoustical banners can be employed inside the recital hall to fine-tune the acoustics during a performance. The horizontal woven-wood panels are designed to absorb the sound reflections from the glass wall so that the entire room works in harmony to provide a dramatic view behind the performer without compromising acoustics.

“The building form is strongly influenced by the physical site, with the boundary of the waterfront to the east and the new arts lawn along the west,” noted Scott Seyer, AIA, LEED AP, GP principal and senior project designer. “We wanted to maximize interior daylight and the spectacular views of the waterfront for students and faculty.”

Targeted for LEED Gold status, the building offers a variety of innovative features including a double-skin facade and grey water system. One of Northwestern University’s goals was to build a highly sustainable building that engages and invigorates the campus and larger community. The university intends to use the building as an educational tool to encourage and advance the science and knowledge of green building and operating practices.

Goettsch Partners (GP) is an innovative architecture firm with a global perspective, emphasizing a singular design approach across offices in Chicago, Shanghai and Abu Dhabi. Focused on combining exceptional design, technical expertise and unmatched service, the firm creates measurable value and environmentally responsible solutions. Services include architecture, interiors, planning and building enclosure design. Diverse projects around the world share a consistent emphasis on bringing bold design clarity to complex challenges. Visit for more information.


Location: Northwestern University Campus, Evanston


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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