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Streeterville Resident Group Rejects Northwestern Medical Building Designs

 Three architecture firms have submitted competing designs for the 600,000-square-foot medical facility.
Northwestern Biomedical Research Facility Renderings
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STREETERVILLE — Northwestern University has narrowed plans for its new 1.2 million-square-foot Streeterville research facility to three designs from three separate architecture teams — and the neighborhood association isn't happy with any of them.

"It is difficult to identify a clear favorite from an aesthetic point of view," wrote Gail Spreen, the president of the Streeterville Organization of Active Residents. "Our members were pleased that Northwestern sought out such renowned design teams, but the general consensus was that none of the candidates presented the 'iconic' building that the community had been hoping to see."

The neighborhood group's Real Estate Committee reviewed the designs proposed by Perkins+Will, Goettsch Partners and Ballinger, and Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture and Payette last week. On Tuesday, Spreen sent a letter to Ronald Nayler, associate vice president for facilities management at Northwestern, outlining the group's concerns about the proposals.

Many of their concerns addressed the experience for pedestrians around the building. SOAR requested non-reflective glass be used at the ground level instead of mirrored surfaces, and voiced concerns that the wide footprint would make the area feel claustrophobic.

"If the design could be changed so that the first two floors are recessed with exposed columns, it would be a much more welcoming pedestrian experience," Spreen wrote.

The group praised the decision not to build a parking garage, but noted that the site would need a plan for bike parking and for increased commuter traffic by foot and public transit instead.

Spreen and SOAR also took a hard stance against connecting walkways proposed to cross between buildings above the street, which they wrote "close in the streets and darken the public way."

"We request that connections between buildings are done underground. If any bridge is approved, it should be high above the street and as transparent as possible."

Models of the three final designs were displayed to the public last month during SOAR's annual Artisan Market, where comment cards solicited visitors' feedback.

"We'd like to get your input on the proposed designs," Northwestern President Morton Shapiro said in a letter addressed to neighbors of the hospital in October.

In closing, the letter requests that the university "challenge your excellent architectural firms to work harder in creating a new landmark for NU and for Streeterville."

"The community has been assured that the 'iconic' Bertrand Goldberg Prentice Hospital building would be replaced with an architecturally significant structure," the letter closes. "There was general agreement that none of the Phase One concepts could be viewed as 'iconic,' and that the Phase Two designs also fell short of the goal of being a signature look that would represent Northwestern's research facilities as world class."

While Shapiro's letter invited community members to "stop by, take a look at the competition entries and give us your feedback on each of the proposals," it also noted that the final decision will be made by Northwestern's Board of Trustees later this year.

Construction on the new facility is set to kick off in early 2015.