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U. of I. tech center in Chicago gets state agency’s go-ahead

The Illinois Capital Development Board approved a contract for the Discovery Partners Institute project, which will be designed by a team that includes architect Rem Koolhaas.

An aerial view of South Loop site of The 78, which would include a technology center for the University of Illinois.
An aerial view of South Loop site of The 78, which would include a technology center for the University of Illinois.
Mark Segal/Related Midwest

An international team of engineers and designers, including renowned architect Rem Koolhaas, was chosen Tuesday to create a $250 million technology incubator and teaching center for the University of Illinois on the Near South Side development site known as The 78.

The new home for the school’s Discovery Partners Institute will be the work of Dallas-based design and consulting firm Jacobs and OMA-AMO, a Rotterdam architectural firm whose partners include Koolhaas. The Illinois Capital Development Board approved a $15 million contract for the partnership at a virtual meeting.

The board, which authorizes major construction projects of state agencies, selected the team from 35 other applicants for the high-profile job. The U. of I. has aspirations to create a futuristic landmark with the new building that would attract technology talent to Chicago.

A “competition brief” the U. of I. and the agency issued for firms interested in the work said the DPI center would connect “thousands” of students with academics and private industry “to accelerate innovation and create life-changing products, taking them to market faster than ever before.”

With all that possible activity, the center could provide an impetus for other development at The 78, a 62-acre site running southwest from Roosevelt Road and Clark Street. The development led by Related Midwest is being marketed as a new Chicago neighborhood, the 78th, in the making.

Rem Koolhaas
Provided

But it’s unclear how massively scaled projects will continue after a pandemic that has altered how corporations use office space and possibly changed people’s desires for city living. Also unknown is whether the state of Illinois, with its deficit-addled budgets, can follow through and fund construction.

The proposed site would be near 15th and Clark streets, near the south end of The 78.

The development board’s spokesperson and staff confirmed the selection of the Jacobs-OMA team, but they declined to discuss details or post them on its website pending a release to be issued by Gov. J.B. Pritzker. Board members are appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Illinois Senate for four-year terms.

The governor’s office was unavailable for comment. Pritzker announced DPI’s involvement in the development last February.

Koolhaas, a Dutch architect and a leading thinker about urbanism, is the most prominent name in the partnership. His designs feature unusual forms that can draw praise and criticism.

Among his works are the Seattle Central Library, the China Central Television Headquarters in Beijing and a Chicago building, the McCormick Tribune Campus Center at the Illinois Institute of Technology, which incorporates a noise-absorbing tube around the L tracks.

Representatives of the Jacobs and OMA firms did not respond to requests for comment. A DPI executive had no immediate comment.

The capital development board selected the winning team from two other finalist teams: Foster & Partners Architects with the engineering firm Epstein and Studio Gang, the firm headed by award-winning Chicago architect Jeanne Gang.

The board’s offering material for the work emphasized a desire for a unique design.

“The DPI has a bold vision for tackling a broad range of societal challenges, and the home of the institute should reflect that vision,” it said. “This competition is meant to be the first step towards realizing a once in a generation facility that can have meaningful impact on society as [a} whole. The task of designing that facility should be treated with the same excitement and innovative spirit that is central to the DPI.”