Project Completion Year
Project Location: City
Project Location: State
Project Location: Country
United States of America
The Physics Research Center (PRC) co-locates theoretical and experimental physics at the University of Chicago for the first time. An adaptive reuse of a mid-century modern building (1964), the project included a gut renovation of the majority of the interior space, a complete new enclosure, and two new occupied floor levels over the existing structure. The reuse of the existing structure protected a landmark research project that has been operating continuously in the building since the 1960s while it also reduced environmental impact and influenced the design of the new construction.
Surrounded by much larger research buildings, the PRC was conceived as their human-scaled counterpart—celebrating the legacy and stature of physics at the University with refinement, rather than size. The distinctive massing of the new building, conceived with narrower floorplates at the upper floors to allow for better light and views, orients the building toward the newly renovated quad. The team resolved efficiency and campus cohesion issues by cleanly over-cladding the building with a limestone rainscreen with R-55 superinsulation and a structurally-sealed curtainwall. The expressed structural grid of the original building is featured at the lower levels, establishing a design language that balances historic character with the present day.
To further discourse and camaraderie between disciplines, the program includes collaboration spaces, workspaces, and experimental physics labs. A cantilevered seminar room frames a visual connection between interior and exterior while shared spaces are connected to natural light, outdoor views, dining, and vertical connections to increase chance encounters, encouraging communication and collaboration.
Sustainable Design Intent and Innovation
An adaptive reuse of an existing midcentury modern research building, the Physics Research Center (PRC) is the new home for theoretical and experimental physics at the University of Chicago. The project included a gut renovation of the majority of the interior space, a complete new enclosure, and two new occupied floor levels over the existing structure. Originally completed in 1964, the simple, rational building, characterized by an expressed structure and wide floor plates, presented challenges for renovation due to its intricate reinforced concrete joists and girders, shallow floor-to-floor heights, and uninsulated enclosure. The University chose to retain the existing structure in part to maintain and protect a landmark research project that has been operating continuously in the building since the 1960s. The reuse of the existing structure also reduced the environmental impact, influenced the design of the new construction, and used the embodied energy of the project create a large open space surrounding the building for the student community. It is certified LEED Gold (2009 NC).
The distinctive massing of the addition conceived with narrower floor plates at the upper floors to allow for better light and views, also orients the building toward the University and its newly renovated quad. As the original building's basement mechanical spaces were repurposed to serve an almost doubled building volume, it was necessary to maximize the efficiency of the building systems and enclosure. The clean overcladding of the building with a limestone rainscreen of R-55 insulation and a structurally sealed curtainwall addressed this issue. The expressed structural grid of the original building is featured at the lower levels, establishing a design language that balances historic character with the present day.
The building program was developed to include a variety of collaboration spaces as well as new flexible experimental physics labs, special purpose instrument labs, and modern workspace environments. Light- and electromagnetic-sensitive labs were intentionally placed in the building's interior and basement, taking advantage of the existing building’s massing and maximizing daylighting on the broad lower levels. By giving people access to daylight and views and providing these collaborative spaces on the perimeter of the building, the design supports the project’s innovation agenda. Daylight and views have been shown to stimulate positive physiological responses that can lead to improvements in mood, happiness, and ultimately productivity.
Smart design decisions were made to reduce energy use before applying systems. Superinsulation, airtight construction, and properly sized glazing all reduce the heating/cooling/lighting loads that the building will need to maintain comfort/functionality from the building. Then, smart systems were added. Overhead chilled beams were selected to provide hydronic heating and cooling throughout the building, a more efficient solution than conventional forced air.
• Predicted EUI in kBtu/sf/yr excluding on-site renewable energy contribution: 93.4 kBTU/sf/yr
• Predicted EUI in kBtu/sf/yr including on-site renewable energy contribution (carbon offsets will not be counted): 93.4 kBTU/sf/yr
• Predicted % regional energy reduction per Energy Star Target Finder: 40%
The project team employed four strategies in particular to reduce energy and carbon usage.
• Optimize Energy Performance: To make significant headway on improving the energy performance of this project, the design team focused heavily on the building envelope. Superinsulation and airtightness in the assembly was emphasized, with walls that achieve a continuous R 55 with sprayfoam insulation and high-performance glazing with a solar heat gain coefficient (SHGC) of 0.22. Additionally, the proper sizing and use of glazing on the project allows for daylight to be drawn into the interior of the building, reducing reliance on electric lighting.
Once smart design decisions were made to improve the passive design of the building, smart systems were employed. A chilled beam heating and cooling system throughout the project provides efficient comfort at a reduced energy consumption.
• Enhanced Commissioning: In order to truly ensure a high-performance building, enhanced commissioning was critical to the project to ensure that the systems are performing to the best of their capacity.
• Enhanced Refrigerant Management: The project used refrigerants that minimize the emission of compounds that contribute to ozone depletion and global climate change.
• Measurement and Verification: The project has committed to share whole-building energy and water data annually through EnergyStar Portfolio Manager, so actual EUI will be tracked over time.
• Walk Score rating: 80
As a premiere research department, the University of Chicago does world-class research on a broad spectrum of subjects. A distinguishing feature of Chicago's department is their commitment to surmount disciplinary barriers in pursuit of research goals. As such, it was necessary that the physical environment mirror this philosophy.
With the University of Chicago theorists and experimentalist sharing a single building for the first time in decades, the 68,300 sf PRC provides a place for engagement and discourse among disciplines. The building program was developed to include a variety of collaboration spaces as well as new flexible experimental physics labs, special purpose instrument labs, and modern workspace environments. At the same time, these most public spaces in the building have overt expressions of intelligent design.
A seminar room, which hosts regular lectures, colloquia, and conferences, is cantilevered out from the existing structure, with an expansive window wall that frames the interior activities of PRC with the North Science Quad.
The placement and disposition of this formal, scheduled space highlights its role as the most public space in the building and is complemented by a lunch commons that serves as the informal center of the PRC. The space's central location, double-height glass wall, and chalkboard walls make it a natural gathering space for group meals and lunchtime talks. An open stairwell connects circulation across two floor levels. An adjoining roof terrace extends this space to the outdoors and provides a unique vantage point above the quad.
This constant exposure to views and natural light and the larger campus/quad reinforces the sustainability goals of the project—to have a visual or physical connection to the happenings in the Quad generally.
• Development Density and Community Connectivity: Design inspiration was drawn from the beauty and strength of the long, axial views in the historic quads, as well as by the many gateways created by the surrounding architecture.
• Alternative Transportation: Public Transportation Access: Bus station proximity – located within ¼-mile walking distance of multiple public bus lines. The project has 383 rides/day that are possible within this ¼-mile walking distance.
• Alternative Transportation: Bicycle Storage and Changing Room: Bike storage to serve 5.65% of FTE and transient occupants, and shower facilities have been provided for 8.2% of FTE.
• Site Development: Maximize Open Space: Open space is provided on-site twice the size of the footprint of the building.
Stormwater Design:Quantity Control: Even though the project size increased significantly from the existing building on-site, runoff was not increased as a result of this project, thanks to the use of four green roof areas.
Water Use Reduction: Potable water use was reduced by 39.4% through the use of high-efficiency fixtures throughout the project.
Low-emitting, recycled, and regional materials, green housekeeping, and pervasive daylighting and views enhance the quality of the interior environment.
Full-height walls, absorbent ceiling assemblies, and strategic placement of HVAC equipment improve acoustics throughout the building.
Abundant natural light fills the commons spaces, enhancing the interior environment and conserving energy.
Building Reuse – Maintain Existing Walls, Floors and Roof
o This project was a major renovation/new construction project. From the existing building, 88.51% of the existing structural elements were saved and reused in the new building, limiting the amount of waste going to landfills and reducing the need for new material.
Construction Waste Management
o The project diverted 86.72% of the on-site generated construction waste from the landfill.
o 13.93% of the total building materials value has been manufactured using recycled materials.
o 23.19% of the total building materials value include materials and products that have been manufactured and extracted within 500 miles of the project site.
o 83.48% of the total wood-based building materials are FSC certified.
o Ventilation rates within the project have been increased by 30% to improve the indoor air quality of the building.
Low-Emitting Materials – Adhesives and Sealants, Paints and Coatings, Flooring Systems, Composite Wood and Agrifiber Products
o All of the above listed products used on site (inside the weatherproofing system) comply with the low-VOC limits.
Design Architect (FIRM)