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Auditorium and Wabash Buildings

From the Ground Up

As Roosevelt celebrates the completion of its new 32-story Wabash Building that will catapult the University into the future, the architects, engineers and contractors who designed and constructed the vertical campus said it took unusual planning and coordination to make it all happen.

Posted: 06/07/2012

By Courtney Flynn | From the Spring 2012 issue of Roosevelt Review

While most Chicagoans marvel at the building’s unique, undulating shape with glass windows reflecting the city’s blue skies, those who worked on it are most proud of the behind-the- scenes challenges they had to overcome.

For example, they had to operate in a construction space constrained by Chicago’s “L” tracks to the west and historic buildings on the east, south and north containing delicate facades and unique foundations.

One of the first construction challenges engineers faced was the placement of a crane used to deliver materials to the site. Because of the urban location, there was not enough room to place the crane within the footprint of the building, as normally would be done. There was also insufficient space to position the crane anywhere outside the site. So it was set on a diving board of sorts made of steel beams that were attached to the building about six feet off the ground.

“I’ve never done this before in my career,” said Kevin Dyball, vice president and construction manager for The John Buck Co., which served as the development manager for the project. “It was a great solution for this particular project to get it outside of the footprint. It allowed all of the construction to proceed smoothly.”

Another creative idea to keep work moving was to integrate a concrete pumping station into the site. Although space was tight, having the on-site station allowed trucks to dump their concrete loads into a hopper inside the building without tying up the street with construction traffic. Every floor of the building consists of poured concrete, so it was necessary to have a constant flow.

“With as little access as we had, it was imperative to come up with innovative ways to feed the materials into the building,” said Bob Van Deven, the project executive and vice president at Power Construction Co., the general contractor for the building. “If you didn’t have them, then everything would have had to stop and wait.”

There was ongoing collaboration with the Chicago Transit Authority to ensure that “L” trains could pass by safely while construction continued on the building less than 30 feet away. Work was scheduled between trains or when train traffic was the lightest, such as on weekends. The CTA provided flaggers, and trains were stopped when large pieces of steel needed to be placed near the building.

And while all the coordination and construction continued, there was the constant concern for protecting the historic Auditorium Building and the façade of the former Fine Arts Annex, which both posed their own issues.

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The Auditorium Building was constructed more than a century ago on a “floating foundation,” which depends on a mat of large timbers to spread out the weight of the structure, said Van Deven, who received his MBA in finance in 1992 from Roosevelt. The timbers need to be kept wet to keep from cracking. In addition, the Auditorium Building’s foundation encroached on the site of the new building by several feet.

To preserve the integrity of the foundation, a steel earth retention system (like a bathtub) was built around the entire Wabash Building to ensure none of the water drained away as construction took place on the facility.

“Imagine if you built a deep hole near a river. The tendency would be for the water to flow there. It was technically very complicated,” said Rafael Carreira, principal at the Buck Co. “The water levels were monitored every single day. It is a unique foundation that required a lot of care and attention.”

Another issue was the connectivity between the Auditorium Building and the Wabash Building. The two buildings connect at five points, but joining a modern structure to a historic building posed its own challenges because of different grades.

“It was extremely important that we developed a way for persons to go easily from one building to the other, but the floors didn’t always match up,” said Steve Hoselton, Roosevelt’s associate vice president of campus planning and operations and the University official over-seeing the construction project.

Because of all the grade variations, connecting the Michigan Avenue side of the Auditorium Building to the Wabash Building proved to be one of the most complicated parts of the design. “We had to create a sloping walkway over an alleyway to connect the buildings,” Hoselton said. “Now, if you are in the dining hall of the Wabash Building and want to go to the north side of the Auditorium Building, you won’t have to walk all around the buildings in a big “U” shape.”

 Wabash building construction

CONSTRUCTIVE SOLUTIONS  The engineers and architects who worked on Roosevelt’s Wabash Building came up with innovative ideas to solve construction dilemmas. The crane was placed on steel beams outside the perimeter of the building due to the tight construction site (above). The facade of the historic Fine Arts Annex was preserved, restored and connected to the new building (bottom-left). Each of the building’s five green roofs has different environments so the plants chosen for each roof were based on those specific climates (bottom-right).

Fine Arts Annex   Wabash building green roof

Another challenge was saving the six-story façade of the building located on the north end of the Wabash Building property and incorporating it into the design of the building.

The former Fine Arts Annex façade was built in 1924 by renowned architect Andrew Rebori.

Because the façade was historic, it couldn’t be taken down and rebuilt later. Instead, steel reinforcing bars were put up around the façade and it was completely restored. It is now the entrance to Roosevelt’s bookstore.

In addition, the signature terra cotta on the façade had to be restored. But there are only two manufacturers in the entire country that make the particular type of terra cotta used in the facade.

“It was really a very complicated and time-consuming thing for us to get it right,” Hoselton said. “We didn’t think it was going to be that complicated, but as we got more and more into it, it got more and more complicated.”

An overarching problem was combining all of the different uses of the new building into one cohesive structure—from the dining hall to science labs to residence space, said Jeff Hrubec, senior vice president at VOA Associates, Inc. and the project manager/project architect for the Wabash Building.

The design team used a “neighborhood concept,” grouping similar functions together and color coordinating them in shades such as yellow, blue, red and orange.

Student support services, which include a fitness center and dining hall, are housed on the building’s first five floors. Science labs, classrooms and faculty office space comprise the sixth through 13th floors. And beginning on the 14th floor heading up, there are residence rooms with incredible views overlooking the Art Institute of Chicago, Lake Michigan and Soldier Field.

“At a typical university in a rural area, there would be as many as six different buildings,” Hrubec said. “One of the major challenges was trying to get all of the different programs to work together.”

Making sure the building was “green” and sustainable was an imperative for everyone involved. Although it was often difficult to achieve, the University incorporated several green initiatives into the project. These include native plants on 51 percent of the roof, using construction materials that were 20 percent recycled and installing energy efficient heating and air conditioning equipment with a Building Automation System rating that is 24.5 percent above industry standards. Roosevelt will learn this spring if it will receive a LEED silver or gold certification, something very few skyscrapers in Chicago have.

Aside from all of the engineering, architectural and construction challenges, those who worked closely on the project said another wonder of the Wabash Building is the tough economic climate in which it was built.

“In a normal time, it’s one of those once in a lifetime opportunities to take all these program elements and put them all in one building with a significant design,” Hrubec said. “We started in 2008 when the rest of the world was falling apart. So it’s not just the building itself, but it’s the time it was built in that says something about the resolve of the University and the design team to really bring something this unique to life.”

“This is really a fascinating, distinctive building,” Hoselton said. “We couldn’t put up just any building next to the Auditorium Building. When that was built in the late 19th century, it was a statement to the world that the city of Chicago had arrived. The Wabash Building had to be a statement that Roosevelt has arrived.”