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The New Spertus Lightens Up (Genesis 1-3)





Photos from a press preview of Krueck and Sexton's spectacular new Spertus Institute, which brings Chicago's Michigan Avenue historic district
into the 21st Century

 -by Lynn Becker





[April 27, 2007] Seven months. That's how much time Krueck & Sexton architects and O'Neil Construction have to bring the Spertus Institute's ten floors of what is Great Hall, the Spertus Institute, Chicago, Krueck and Sexton, architectsnow mostly bare steel interior wall framing to their final finish, in time for the announced November 29th gala and November 30th opening.

Taking a press tour of the new building this past Wednesday was like looking at an x-ray. You fill in the flesh with your imagination. Yet, every time we gravitated towards the front of the structure, the finish was already there. While from the outside, the Spertus will be defined by Mark Sexton and Ron Kruek, architects, Spertus Instituteits spectacular, faceted curtain wall, once inside, the richest finish will be the spectacular views out over Grant Park and Lake Michigan.

Inside and out, transparency is the keynote of the new Spertus. “We walked through this building,” architect Mark Sexton said of the current Spertus, just to the south, “and we could see this incredible energy, this fever of activity in this building. Yet is was all isolated, it all occurred in individual cubicles. So Howard [Sulkin, the Spertus's dynamo of a President] and the entire staff and leadership of Spertus said part of our task is to open it up, to reveal it, to express this energy, express this dynamism that really occurs here and I think that for us is such a central point of design for the entire building.”

The Spertus is at the south end of the Historic Michigan Boulevard District, an official city landmark that stretches an entire mile from Randolph to 11th Streets., centered by Adler & Sullivan's seminal Auditorium Building of 1887, and also including structures designed by Burnham and Company, Holabird and Roche, and Marshall and Fox. Before the new Spertus came along, the only strong dose of modernism on the strip came from A. Epstein and Sons' Spertus Institute, Krueck and Sexton, architectsclassy, under-rated Borg-Warner Building at Michigan and Adams, and that one will be half-a-century old next year.

Sexton said that Spertus “didn’t want something that was a recycling of another thought.  It was, 'let’s do something that is original, dynamic and really forward thinking because that’s what we are as an organization.'”

“What that allowed to happen” added partner Ron Krueck, “is not to just replicate history but to become part of the history of the boulevard   . . . It is a preservation district.  So we had to go in front of the whole City Council and get approval for the building.  And it was with a great thought and concern that a building like this was accepted and allowed to become part of that history. As the future generations look back, [they'll see] that Spertus Institute, Krueck and Sexton, architects we were not duplicating the past, but we were occupying the moment in the history of that wall, filling that last blank space.” 

“This not a vanilla building,” said Sulkin. ”There are several floor with 16-18 foot ceilings, and several floors that are traditional size.”

Light from a skylight will flood the multi-level great hall on the 9th floor, as well as the art galleries on the 10th, and the library reading room on the 8th. A three story entrance will rise behind the entrance, and a design on its back wall will mimic that of the Michigan Avenue curtain wall.

The greatest source of light however, is that great faceted facade. In a press release Spertus Institute, Krueck and Sexton, faceted curtain walldistributed for the tour, Sexton explained its significance. ”Like the bays of its 19th and 20th century neighbors, the facets that create the facade's dynamic crystalline form allow light to extend into the narrow building [80 feet wide, 180 feet deep] . . . The composition of the Spertus facade will change depending on the sun's position, with facets simultaneously transparent, reflective, translucent, and opaque. When panels reflect, they will mirror the building's magnificent setting of sky, sun, and the greenery of Grant Park. At night, the building's interior light will emit a warm glow.”

The 161-foot-high facade consists of 720 individual pieces in 250 different shapes. The aluminum mullions were custom extruded.

When finished, the building's 10th floor fronting will be dominated by a glass-walled "Board Room" that, like many of the building's other public spaces, will be availableSpertus Institute, Krueck and Sexton architects, view from 10th floor boardroom for rental - weddings, birthday parties, bar mitzvah's, etc. The day of the tour offered up a potent calling card. With the glass still to be installed, the views from the Boardroom, and from what will become the adjacent open air garden terrace, were breathtaking. To the north, the Streeterville skyline, Millennium Park, and the sails of Frank Gehry's Pritzker Pavilion, to the south, the Adler Planetarium jutting out into the lake.

It will be another half a year before we see how well it all actually comes out. They'll be a lot more to say about the Spertus then, but the prospects are promising.

Spertus Institute, Krueck and Sexton, architects

Spertus Institute, Krueck and Sexton architects

Spertus Institute, Krueck and Sexton, architects, mullions

Spertus Museum, Krueck and Sexton architects

Spertus Institute, Krueck and Sexton, architects

Spertus Institute, Krueck and Sexton, architects

Spertus Institute, Krueck and Sexton, architects

Adler Planetarium, as seen from Spertus Institute, Chicago

Spertus Institute, Krueck and Sexton Architects, Roof Terrace

Spertus Institute, Chicago, Krueck and Sexton architects

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© Copyright 2007 Lynn Becker All rights reserved.

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