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Like most urban schools, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) does not have a main campus. Instead, housed in several buildings in a three-block area of Chicago’s Loop, it has long lacked a central focus point for the school and its students. This 19,000-square-foot renovation provides a student center for the institute’s diverse student body and functions as a “home base” for students, faculty, and staff.

The LeRoy Neiman Student Center combines offices and spaces for meeting, studying, lounging, and dining while offering a sense of identity to the student body. The facility is fully equipped with high-end audiovisual technology, providing opportunities for student interactions and presentations.

The 1,000-square-foot student gallery provides the school with a street-level presence and includes a video wall for high-tech visual art. The program/event space hosts events for up to 80 people. The student leadership suite can be configured as one large room or two smaller ones for activities and meetings.

The student center occupies the first two floors of the Sharp Building, a historic Chicago brick tower designed by Holabird and Roche. The two levels are connected by an open, sculptural stair that provides circulation between the main area and the café. The other floors house the school library, administration offices, and classrooms.

The main donor for the student center was the artist LeRoy Neiman, an SAIC alumnus who achieved a great deal of commercial success. According to his bequest, Summertime in the Indiana Dunes, created in 1965 for the Mercantile National Bank in Indiana, was to be mounted in the project.

This proved to be a design challenge, because the mural is eight feet high and more than 50 feet long. VDTA created a special viewing area for the painting in the lobby of the building. The painting had to be bent to fit; it turns a 90-degree corner. The result is a striking visual display at the building’s entrance.

Adjacent to the Sharp Building is Legacy at Millennium Park, a new 50-story condominium tower built on property formerly owned by SAIC and incorporating the facades of several existing buildings into its base. In a unique arrangement, SAIC traded part of the Sharp Building’s first floor in exchange for several floors at the base of the Legacy tower. This allowed the Legacy’s developers to create a residential lobby connected to the Sharp Building; the entire area was renovated as one project.

Classrooms and private graduate studios in the Legacy offer new learning spaces to support continued campus growth. The new wing has exposed concrete floors and structure, generous ceiling heights, and an eye-level view of the Chicago El tracks. Special glazing and acoustical wall treatments absorb noise from passing trains.

Architect: Valerio Dewalt Train Associates
Project Team: Joe Valerio, Mark Dewalt, Lauren Nakles, Christine Rosenberg
Photographer: Barbara Karant (Student Center), Matt Dula (Legacy Building)

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