House & home
Designed for the Chicago student of today, a new South Campus residence hall takes the College into tomorrow.
By Katherine E. Muhlenkamp
Photography by Dan Dry
It was a Sunday last September when the new South Campus Residence Hall metamorphosed from a building into a home. On an overcast afternoon, the inaugural SCRH residents—incoming first-years arriving for orientation—streamed through the glass doors pushing bright orange carts filled with suitcases and boxes. The O-Week SCRH activities included a Friday-evening building-wide scavenger hunt hosted by the hall’s two pairs of resident masters. Battling for gift certificates, kitschy trophies, and immortal glory (the winners’ names were inscribed on building plaques), the 60 teams received a list of questions and challenges. Some sample items: From the SCRH quiet-study lounge, which buildings housing U of C libraries can you see? Find someone in your dorm who has never seen snow; chuckle ominously and ask if they know how many inches it takes to bring the building down. College is a lot like preschool—you wear your backpack on both shoulders, you take naps, and playing in the snow is a legitimate activity. Go to the Jannotta House lounge and relive your childhood by playing with blocks.
Once they had gathered the cardboard blocks, the student scavengers had one minute to arrange the pieces in the form of the new building; the real-life process of shaping the residence hall had been far more painstaking. It involved six years of gathering information, drafting proposals, and making decisions, one of the most important being where to locate the structure. The 1999 University Campus Master Plan identified the land just south of Burton-Judson Courts as a possible site for a new residence hall. Four years later, the Board of Trustees decided to build a dorm in lieu of rehabilitating Shoreland Hall, and the College conducted a new residence-hall programming study. In 2004 the board accepted many of the proposals in the study write-up, including the recommendation to build SCRH on the B-J site identified five years earlier.
A stone’s throw from the Midway Plaisance and a five-minute walk to the quads, the location builds on the 2001 opening of Regenstein neighbor Max Palevsky Residential Commons, bringing the College one step closer to realizing the long-term vision of Dean John W. Boyer, AM’69, PhD’75: a set of residence halls, housing a total of 3,500 undergraduates (70 percent of the student body), all within a 20-minute walk to the quadrangles. In a 2008 report to College faculty, Boyer cited the College’s growth over the past decade—from increased applications to bolstered financial aid to enhanced support for student research—but stressed that “such a College deserves a vibrant, densely integrated campus culture—one that pays special attention to encouraging students to live within walking distance of campus and become deeply involved in an array of academic, para-academic, and extracurricular activities.”
Even before a site had been determined, the staff committee charged with moving the dorm project along set out to answer some basic questions: how do 21st-century Chicago undergrads select, inhabit, and use their living space? Student input heavily informed each stage of the design process. The Office of Undergraduate Student Housing first gathered opinions through an October 2003 survey distributed to all second-, third-, and fourth-year students. In January 2004 they hosted a series of focus groups where architectural consultants gathered a group of students to ask: “What is the single thing you like best about where you live? What makes you want to stay in a residence hall?” and the like. After the consultants wrote up the feedback (see “Design Specs”) and the location was announced, in January 2005 the board accepted the committee’s recommendation to have Boston architectural firm Goody Clancy design the building. Meanwhile, staff project leaders convened a group called the New Residence and Dining Hall Student Advisory Committee. “At that stage it was important to have students meeting on a regular basis,” says Cheryl Gutman, deputy dean of students, housing, and dining services. “We had a lot of design decisions to make. When we needed to make those decisions, we used this student group. They would review drawings and help us think about issues we hadn’t even considered. At one point the architects asked us to consider building closets without doors. That didn’t happen, because some students in the group told us, ‘No way.’”
In addition to the survey, focus groups, and advisory committee, College staff solicited feedback on all kinds of details in all kinds of ways. Student workers in the computing center tested desk-chair models for four weeks. The one they preferred is the one SCRH residents now enjoy. Made by Adden Furniture, the wood chairs have rockers, so students can lean back as they solve an equation or contemplate a line of poetry.
By 2009 the design was set and builders and artisans were readying SCRH for its inhabitants. Throughout the year, Gutman and associate dean of students Katie Callow-Wright spent hours giving preview tours to some 350 students, including tours to help Shoreland residents—who had first dibs on SCRH rooms because their residence hall closed at the end of the 2008–09 academic year—decide if they wanted to live there. Callow-Wright and Gutman also gave tours to more than 100 alumni, faculty, staff, donors, and representatives of other schools. Read on to experience the tour in print and get a taste of how the College created a home for students—one building block at a time.
For programming purposes, the South Campus Residence Hall is considered two dorms of approximately 400 students each: SCRH East and SCRH West, each built around an interior courtyard. South Campus Residence Hall East comprises four Houses (Jannotta, Chautauqua, Crown, and Wendt) as does SCRH West (Halperin, Oakenwald, Kenwood, and DelGiorno). Each dorm is overseen by a pair of resident masters. In SCRH West are John Lucy, PhD’87, William Benton professor of comparative human development and psychology, and his wife and frequent research collaborator, Suzanne Gaskins, PhD’90, a psychology professor at Northeastern Illinois University. In SCRH East are Lawrence McEnerney, AM’80, director of University writing programs, and his wife, Cathe. “We have two pairs of resident masters and break down the building this way because 800 students are too many for one pair,” says Callow-Wright. “We want the masters to be accessible to students.” Each house also has one or two resident heads—advanced graduate students or University faculty or staff—and two undergraduate resident assistants.
You've got mail
To spark incidental social interaction, all residents use the same main entrance and first-floor mail room. Although the mailboxes have a vintage design—antique gold trim, silver knobs, decorative etching—the room was designed to accommodate a contemporary student lifestyle. The large space and ample storage are vital, says Callow-Wright: “Students order everything online, and the volume of incoming packages continues to grow.”
Lost in thought
Students seeking a study sanctuary can head to the fifth floor of SCRH East, where a bi-level reading room with floor-to-ceiling windows affords stunning views of Harper Library, Lake Michigan, and the Law School’s Eero Saarinen fountain. The design was inspired by the Law School Library, which Burton-Judson residents tend to frequent. “We conducted a focus group and asked those students, ‘Why do you go to the Law School to study? What is it about that particular place?’” Gutman notes. “We discovered that students study at the Law School and in the Regenstein stacks for the same reason: these two buildings have glass walls in their study areas. The students told us that they could concentrate in a room that had no distractions, but also where one could look outside and not feel penned in.”
Each House has its own two-story lounge as well as an open-banister internal staircase that winds upward to the House’s top floor. Both stair and lounge are purposely located close to the House entrance: “Having students pass by their lounge and take the stair to their room makes for an organically social environment,” says Callow-Wright. “When we were designing this residence hall, students told us that if you locate a common area well, it will get used.”
King of the castle
To foster community and continuity, each SCRH House features several “goal” rooms. Because the College housing lottery heavily weights House seniority, an SCRH resident can eventually secure such prime real estate by staying in the same House year after year. “We asked students living in other residence halls what had compelled them to remain part of a certain House,” Gutman says. “They explained, ‘I knew that if I stayed, I would someday get that beautiful single room on the sixth floor inside the turret.’” The SCRH goal room pictured above right, a spacious single with a skyline view, is a part of a four-person suite with private bathroom.