THE 78 — The multi-year effort to develop a new 62-acre neighborhood on Chicago’s Near South Side moved forward this month with Gov. JB Pritzker announcing new state funding and the selection of a team of designers and engineers who will develop a cornerstone research technology hub on the site.
First unveiled by developer Related Midwest in 2017, the $7 billion “The 78” mega-development will include retail, hotel, restaurants and up to 10,000 new units of housing along the Chicago River, north of Chinatown and south of Chicago’s South Loop.
The property will also feature a University of Illinois-led collaborative innovation center known as the Discovery Partners Institute (DPI).
Last week, the Illinois Capital Development Board (CDB) selected a team of designers and engineers, which included Dallas-based design and consulting firm Jacobs Consultants, Inc., Netherlands-based architectural firm OMA*AMO Architecture, and global design company IDEO, that will lead the $250 million DPI project.
The team was selected after a rigorous process that began months ago.
During their October presentation, representatives from the winning firm team shared images of a multi-story, all glass, semi-dome shaped building that will be sustainable, including having its own rainwater collection system. It will house classrooms, open air meeting spaces, laboratories, a cafeteria and terraces throughout the building.
The design calls for a series of laboratories to be built atop one another – which seeks to ensure efficiency – on one side of the building. The other side will include a “methodical design” of office and meeting spaces that will be layered in a way that is reminiscent of a game of Jenga, with open-air spaces complete with terraces aimed at maximizing views of the city and riverfront.
The exterior of the building will feature an “insulated glass skin” that will provide cover from the outside while allowing light to enter the building and at the same time let outsiders to see inside.
The perimeter area will feature landscaping with plants native to the region and also include a “wooden paving system” that pays homage to the late 1800s, when the Chicago River helped develop the city into the epicenter of the lumber trade.
Overall, CDB received 35 submissions, which led to six firms being interviewed. A conceptual design competition took place between three finalists vying for the project, with each team having six weeks to complete their proposal.
In October, the finalists presented their ambitious visions for the research center to a 12-person selection committee. The committee included five representatives from CDB, five representatives from the University of Illinois, which included one person from the Discovery Partners Institute, a representative of Related Midwest and a local community member.
Members of the winning team said their final design sought to be “expressive and serene” while aimed at being a “center” for “interdisciplinary collaboration” with an atrium at its center that will serve as the building’s “heart.”
Speaking to the CDB last week, J. Brent Lance, the agency’s administrator of capital planning, said the decision to pick the team that included Jacobs Consultants was unanimous among the 12-member selection committee.
“That says a lot about that team’s proposal,” he said, adding that the firm’s pitch would result in a “truly iconic” building.
When the competition was announced, the firms offered pitches based on the property being able to utilize three-and-a-half acres of land. But that changed in the weeks since, with the final project site being reduced to less than one acre.
Lance, who said Jacobs Consultants’ presentation was “easily adaptable” to the smaller site, noted the inclusion of IDEO, which is focused on community engagement, took the winning team to a different level. “The winning team’s conceptual proposal was one of diversity and transparency,” he said.
OMA*AMO Architecture has previously gained recognition for its design of the Seattle Central Library.
The CDB ultimately voted unanimously in favor of the selection of the group of designers and architects. Also under consideration were Chicago-based Studio Gang Architects and London-based Foster + Partners Architects.
After the selection of the design and architecture team, Pritzker announced the release of $142 million in funding for the DPI and the Illinois Innovation Network (INN), a group of public universities and community colleges. The DPI and INN are expected to create or fill 48,000 new jobs over the next decade according to an economic impact study. The initiative is expected to have an economic impact of $19 billion over the next 10 years.