O-Issue 2012: Inside Logan Center for the Arts

The recently completed Logan Center comes equipped with dazzling resources and creative promises

By Sharan Shetty

You’ve talked with the professors, heard about the wonders of Scav, sauntered (or ambled open-mouthed) past the Gothic splendor of the quads, but there’s still nothing more compelling about Hyde Park than that solitary glass-and-steel obelisk south of the Midway. No, not the one that houses over 800 students. We’re talking about the Logan Center for the Arts (LCA); the new cornerstone of campus, a state-of-the-art creative facility, and your class is the first to have access to it your entire undergraduate career.

Finally previewed last spring after years of planning and fundraising, Logan is 11 floors of gleaming appeasement to every student who has lamented the University’s alleged focus on mathematics and the sciences. Architects Billie Tsien and Tod Williams drew inspiration from both the low plains of the Midwest and the sky-scraping towers of Chicago—hence the two-part structure of the building, which consists of a lower building with three floors of studios, galleries, and practice rooms, as well as a tower that announces a new presence in Hyde Park and a new home for artists, residents, and performers on the South Side.

And what a home. The numbers read like a dream: two performance labs, 24 visual arts studios, 20 music practice rooms, two theaters, and one massive performance hall. The Digital Media Center, which takes up almost the entire lower level of Logan, features music and film editing labs with state-of-the art software, as well as an equipment cage replete with HD video cameras, lighting and sound exhibition equipment, and multiple student workstations. There’s more, but you get the idea. The place is nice.

More interesting, however, is the idea behind it. Tsien and Williams lived on the top floor of Carnegie Hall Tower for 35 years, so they’ve been heavily exposed to a wide mixture of the arts. When designing Logan, they kept that mixture, that constant exchange and expression of ideas, in mind. Logan isn’t meant to just house the creation of art; it’s meant to help create new art forms, new ideas, new collaborations. That’s part of the reason why the building is filled with open, almost unfinished spaces.

“If you look at the kind of spaces artists generally want to work in…they’re not so interested in very designed, configured little spaces,” said Tsien in a University interview before the building’s opening. “They search out industrial buildings.”

“A lot of the building will be quite unfinished,” added Williams, “because you have incredibly creative students and teachers here who want to make a great mess.”

After the six-month preview period that began in March, the new campus muse will have its grand opening at the October 16-18 Logan Launch Festival. An ideal opportunity to get a feel for the building, the festival will include world-premiere compositions commissioned for the occasion, as well as plays written by alumni, an architectural lecture from Tsien and Williams, and Spanish concerts.

The event will be the first ripple of change marking Logan’s presence on campus, a presence that will undoubtedly make huge waves in the next few years. Even in the next year, a fully functioning LCA will have a significant impact on campus life: Student organizations like University Theater (UT) and Fire Escape Films will be moving their offices and programming to the building, and even the Department of Visual Arts (DOVA) will be shifting to the new space.  Tsien and Williams hope that this proximity will serve as a “mixing bowl” for various artistic mediums. Bill Michel, A.B. ’92, M.B.A. ’08, executive director of the LCA, estimates that the space will host 90 percent of campus visual arts and theater, and open spaces like the penthouse, galleries, and exhibition halls have already been reserved in advance for some of the most prominent arts events in the College.

In short, take advantage. The LCA is perhaps the first time in the U of C’s history that the arts have had such a dramatic and tangible headquarters on campus; visibility has never been higher for the artisans and creative minds who reside in the area. Though previous artistic hubs like Midway Studios were loved for their humble atmosphere and homey feel, Logan presents a larger, more extensive, and more comprehensive chance to engage the student community and beyond. It has the facilities, it has the equipment, it has the space. All it needs are the artists.