UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO CRERAR SCIENCE QUADRANGLE | Chicago, Illinois, USA | 2018
Landscape Architects: Jacobs/Ryan Associates
Client: University of Chicago
Contractor: Atrium Landscape
Civil and Structural Engineers: Rubinos & Mesia
Lighting and Electrical Engineers: Primera Engineering
Manufacturer: Maglin Site Furniture
Photographers: Kate Joyce Studio
In the early 1980s, the University of Chicago demolished facilities and grounds work offices to construct the John Crerar Library leaving an odd block long quad without a distinguished feature or purpose to enhance the student experience.
The University wanted a functional, eye-catching renovation with a modern feel.
The quad needed to enhance the campus image with an emphasis on creation of place, attract people into the space and further spread the appreciation for the University’s landscapes.
Some of the most influential and memorable settings on American college campuses are the outdoor spaces that join buildings together and can possibly be a student’s first impression. Landscape is a defining aspect of the University of Chicago’s identity and impacts the quality of daily life for students, faculty and staff.
Thus, it was recognized as a botanic garden by the American Public Garden Association in 1997.
The Julie and Parker Hall Botanic Garden Endowment made it possible for the unnoticed quad to get a makeover.
The project’s physical design headed in the direction of a square plaza, the focal point of which is a custom light feature -- a pair of concentric circles with continuous LED lights, supported from four 20-foot poles by catenary cables.
The cables gracefully suspend the lights in the air, and are hardly noticeable in the evening. The circular light feature is made of modular, laser-cut steel segments, bolted together, with the top ring measuring about thirty feet in diameter and the lower ring, fifteen.
The rings float twelve and fifteen feet above a 40-foot square plaza with concentric squares of dark and light pavers, and concrete paving.
Seven custom pre-cast concrete benches offer seating. The light feature is the perfect modern element that completes the connection of the Science Quad surrounded by historic buildings with several different architectural styles.
The steel rings create a framing device for the sky as an open-air planetarium, and cast precise daytime shadows across the plaza that change with time of day and season.
The continuous LEDs on the underside of the steel rings provide both illumination and drama – a curiosity to be investigated.
The new quadrangle is complimented with regional plant material of year-round interest highlighting both Spring and late Fall, key times on the University’s calendar.
The plaza is encircled by 9 Redpointe Maples in a planting bed containing a carpet of geraniums and bulbs.
The circular planting bed outlines paths that radiate outward from the focal point to less geometric mixed border plant beds with a diverse palette and sodded topography that gently molds the berms around the plaza providing various points of view.
The plaza space connects students, faculty members, and pedestrians to a place to decompress between classes, meet up with friends, eat lunch, or to engage with nature. Imperceptibly, the circles are imbued with the symbolic and mysterious meanings of totality, inclusion, exclusion, equality, eternity, timelessness, the infinite, and wholeness.