Rem Koolhaas' new Campus Centre

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photo: Richard Barnes photo: Richard Barnes

words David Taylor

Rem Koolhaas has completed his first North American building, at the Illinois Institute of Technology.

The scheme, called the McCormick Tribune Campus Center, sits between 32nd and 33rd Streets, just east of State Street and the institute's historic Mies van der Rohe Campus. It aims to unify the residential eastern side of the main campus with the educational western side, while housing key student facilities into one building.

But beyond those practicalities there are also some stunning signature touches. As something of an homage to Mies, the $34.6 million, 11,000sq m, single-storey building features at its main entry point a towering seven metre high portrait of the great architect in a graphic composed of small custom-designed icons by New York graphic design firm 2x4. And the Mies elements are peppered around the scheme, including a courtyard, bridge and wall named after the architect. The building houses an IIT Welcome Center, dining facilities, campus radio station, auditorium and meeting rooms, a university bookstore, coffee bar, convenience store, post office and student activity offices. There's also an amoeba toilet - a wedge-shaped restroom made of translucent honeycomb. The other main building component of the competition-winning project is an ingenious solution to an elevated commuter train track running next to the site, turning no-man's land into a vibrant campus centrepiece. Koolhaas' OMA has encased it in a sleeve - a reinforced acoustical tube, supported by concrete and sheathed in corrugated steel, enveloping 160m of the existing Chicago Transit Authority track.

The sleeve helps buffer the rest of the centre from the train noise, with double-paned soundproofing glass in the building muffling it still further. The tube cuts commuter train noise from an average 120 decibels to approximately 70-80 decibels outside the building and less than 70 inside, while also helping to create a new identity for the centre and the IIT.

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