Construction Update
University of Chicago’s Gang-Designed Dorm Tops Out

Rendering of the North Residential Hall and Dining Complex (Courtesy of Mortenson Construction)

Rendering of the North Residential Hall and Dining Complex (Courtesy of Mortenson Construction)

From NEIU to Northwestern to the University of Chicago, local colleges are getting on board with the trend in academia to embrace leading-edge architecture.  The University of Chicago was one of the Chicagoland pioneers in this arena with Helmut Jahn’s Mansueto Library, and the West Campus Combined Utility Plant before that.

Another starchitect is putting her mark on the U.C. campus.  Jeanne Gang’s North Residential Hall and Dining Complex has not only topped out, it’s reached the half-way point in its construction timeline.  As is tradition, construction workers, University representatives and others signed a ceremonial steel I-beam which was installed at the top of the tower.

Mortenson Construction is the contractor on the project and has begun the shift from reaching upward to putting the facade on the building.   You can read its press release about the milestone following the photos.


Construction of the University of Chicago’s Campus North Residence Hall Makes Significant Progress Toward Mid-2016 Completion

Chicago –  On track to complete the University of Chicago Campus North Residential Hall and Dining Commons complex by early June 2016, Mortenson Construction, Studio Gang Architects and the university celebrated reaching the halfway point in construction with a recent topping-off ceremony. With the foundations and reinforced concrete and steel structures for the three residence towers and the dining hall largely in place, Mortenson has begun installing the precast exterior walls and expects to have the buildings mostly enclosed before the first snow.

Leading up to the topping-off, Mortenson placed a steel beam painted white at the job site so university employees, administrators, architects, engineers and construction workers could sign it. At the topping off, those involved with the project gathered to watch Mortenson hoist the steel beam to the roof of the 15-story building, the tallest of the three residence towers.

“We have set an aggressive schedule for completing the residence hall, and Mortenson is doing a great job of meeting the timetable,” says Eric Eichler, the university’s senior project manager overseeing the residence hall project. “Mortenson and Studio Gang submitted a very complex and ambitious building design in order to win our competition, and thus far the reality has met and sometimes exceeded everyone’s expectations.”

The biggest construction challenge so far has been installing a radiant heating and cooling system and other embedded features into the concrete floors. Mortenson created detailed drawings of where to place the radiant tubing and embeds before it built the concrete deck on each floor. The team constructed a plywood deck and installed a mat of reinforced steel. Workers then placed the radiant tubing, followed by another mat of rebar and slotted embeds for connecting the precast panels and curtain wall. All radiant tubing was pressurized to verify the system was tight and to confirm no damage occurred during construction. Workers poured a 9” concrete deck to encase everything.

Mortenson performed thorough pre-testing of building methods at the job site to expedite decision-making and streamline actual construction. The steps included:

· Constructing concrete columns to get the finishes right

· Practicing concrete deck construction with reinforcing steel, radiant heat and cooling systems, and other embedded items

· Practicing construction sequencing so there would be no inefficiencies once actual construction started

· Testing foundation waterproofing transition details which are specific to the project

· Erecting sections of the precast panels and curtain wall to review fit-up and architectural finishes

· Deliberately chipping the precast to understand and confirm repair procedures

As a result, the project team decided to increase the dimension of a blunt edge on the precast panels for constructability and durability. Among other changes, the testing led to adjusting the top of the foundation wall and waterproofing details, coordination of rebar details at congested areas, and selection of sealants’ colors.

“From the beginning when we teamed up to bid on this project, the design-build team has shown its willingness to go the extra mile. Investing to build the physical mockup for testing, which has proven incredibly useful in helping to bring the design to life, rather than simply relying on a virtual one, is just one example,” says Todd Zima, design principal, Studio Gang.

“The residence hall is a landmark project for the university and for Chicago, and it is a prime example of the type of partners and work that we seek out—exciting, challenging, complex, and designed to make a major contribution to improving the university, student life and surrounding community,” says Andy Frank, director of operations for Mortenson’s Chicago office and lead construction executive for the project.


Location: East 55th Street and South University Avenue, Hyde Park

Author: Editor

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

Share This Post On