$215 million science research building announced

The design of the new Eckhardt Research Center will incorporate sustainable elements that will save up to $250,000 annually

By Giovanni Wrobel

The University plans to break ground on a $215-million physical science research center that will incorporate a new institute for molecular engineering this September.

The seven-story William Eckhardt Research Center (ERC) will take the place of the Enrico Fermi and James Franck Research Institute and Accelerator Building on South Ellis Avenue between East 56th and 57th Streets. Construction will begin shortly after the opening of the nearby Mansueto Library.

“As we developed the design, we set as guiding principles for ourselves that the building would express a fusion of science, engineering, and architecture,” University Architect Steve Wiesenthal said. “One of the ways we are doing that is through very active glass façades that will reflect and channel light through the building.”

The ERC will provide underground space for precision-based research in ultra-quiet and ultra-clean laboratories for astrophysics, astronomy, chemistry, physics, and molecular engineering. Argonne National Laboratory will provide research collaboration through the Institute of Molecular Engineering, a new addition to the Physical Sciences Department, qualifying the project for government funding.

The building is designed by James Carpenter from the architecture firm HOK. Carpenter designed the lobby of the 7 World Trade Center in Manhattan and helped to renovate the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

According to a University press release, Carpenter aims to pull design inspiration from the surrounding structures. The bronze Henry Moore “Nuclear Energy” sculpture located outside of Max Palevsky West Residential Commons will act as a focal point of the ERC design.

To increase the statue’s visibility, the new design will create a passageway connecting the area between the BSLC and Eckhardt Research Center to South Ellis Avenue.

Slated for completion in 2015, the University is planning to apply for LEED (Leadership in Energy and Design) gold status for the structure’s environmentally conscious design.

Sustainable elements of the building include the active glass facade, as well as a combination of chilled beams that will circulate water through coils to cool rooms and a heat recovery system that will recycle the building’s exhaust air.

HOK expects these types of design aspects will save the University $250,000 in utilities expenses every year.

Hyde Park architectural scholar and preservationist Grahm Balkany fears that building expansion puts the University at risk of losing the rich architectural history and connections to the Hyde Park community.

“The small buildings are what give the campus its richness,” Balkany said. “Each of these three buildings is trying to relate to the campus, each in an idiosyncratic sort of way,” he said, referring to the limestone buildings along South Ellis Avenue.

The ECR project team is still discussing how, if at all, the current Research Institutes building and its legacy will be memorialized. Although a formal decision has not been finalized, the team is considering displaying a cornerstone.