Comer Children’s Hospital
Location: Chicago, Illinois
Size: 243,400 SF
Role: Associate Architect for Design: Stanley Beaman & Sears, responsible for Site Design, Exterior Design and Public Spaces.
Architect of Record: HLM Design and Proteus Group
Photographed by Jonathan Hillyer
The conceptual goal for the University of Chicago’s new children’s hospital was twofold: to connect the facility with the campus’ dignified built and intellectual environment (more than 70 nobel laureates have been associated with the institution, including 11 in physiology and medicine) and to appeal to young patients’ unbounded sensibilities and inclination to wonder.
The design reinterprets elements of the university’s famous gothic-inspired building stock, but in today’s architectural idiom. A mostly solid, heavy base is punctuated by weighty precast concrete columns at the ground level. These underpin soaring steel “buttresses” which seem to support the expansive glass curtain-wall facade of the upper-floors. These precisely interlocked contemporary materials suggest the rigor of scholarly, and in particular scientific and medical, attention. Enclosures of metal panel and glass, containing open-stair towers at the north and south ends of the building, serve as “book ends” to the multiple vertical bays stacked as if on a library shelf between them.
At the same time relief patterning of abstract tendrils and leaves, in the precast concrete panels that surround the structure’s base, recalls both the ivy that covers many of the campus’ older buildings and the fanciful, naturalistic graphic motifs often found in children’s books. The curve of the entry facade in plan and the slightly angled curves reaching up along the curtain wall imply unfurling growth and enrichment. Inside, organic imagery continues. The lobby’s shape resembles an undulating leaf, and a grid of cast-bronze leaf forms is arranged as part of a water wall. Throughout the hospital’s interior, curving spatial gestures and warm wood-finished surfaces create an ambiance that feels familiar and safe to a child.
Narrative by Jonathan Lerner