The thing about Chicago is that one can view the entire history of modern architecture — from Burnham to Richardson to Sullivan to van der Rohe — in one sweeping gaze from the shores of Lake Michigan itself.
This is why I was intrigued by a bold new glass-and-steel structure on the Chicago skyline that purported to be one of the few college campuses in the world housed almost entirely in a skyscraper. Faceted with sky-blue windows, the rippling curvature of Roosevelt University’s 32-story Wabash Building acts as its own reflection against the nearby waves of Lake Michigan, an elegant yet unmistakably modern embellishment to Chicago’s historic downtown “Loop.”
Besides acting as a showy centerpiece of the university’s collection of metropolitan academic buildings, the $123 million Wabash Building is an important statement about the growth strategy of urban universities such as Roosevelt — upward, not outward.
“Roosevelt University’s Chicago Campus has long needed more space for academics, student life and student housing,” Chuck Middleton, president of Roosevelt University said in a written statement to Crotty on Education. “The new building offers tremendous opportunity for future growth and its addition to the Chicago skyline is a statement of the University’s commitment to be an anchor institution that works on behalf of the economic success and community vitality of Chicago.”
After the University of Pittsburgh’s Cathedral of Learning, the Wabash Building is the second tallest academic building in the US, and certainly the tallest self-contained campus. The LEED-certified structure stacks lecture halls, a student union, dorms, dining hall, administrative offices, a rec center, science labs and the entire Heller College of Business into one all-inclusive structure billed as a “vertical campus.” Heretofore known primarily as a “commuter college,” Roosevelt hopes its vertical campus creates more stickiness, so that students spend more time in and around the school’s beautiful lakefront location.
Indeed, with every conceivable amenity neatly packed into its 469-foot-tall frame, and a stunning unobstructed view of Lake Michigan at the north wing of nearly every floor, students at Roosevelt are hard-pressed to find reasons to venture outside at all. On a visit two years back to view the work of Les Lynn — who’s Chicago Debate League brings verbal fisticuffs to the crime-ridden city’s most violent neighborhoods – I took in the billion-dollar view from one of the Wabash Building’s student lounges. I was ready to enroll right then and there. Not even Manhattan plutocrats get this kind of vista.