Ed Kaplan Family Institute for Innovation and Tech Entrepreneurship
Architect: John Ronan Architects
Owner: Illinois Institute of Technology
Location: Chicago, IL
In the heart of Mies van Der Rohe’s historic Illinois Institute of Technology campus, the Family Institute for Innovation and Tech Entrepreneurship fosters collaboration and innovation among the school’s students, faculty, and alumni. Containing a wide array of collaboration spaces for the school’s project-based experiences, this open and light-filled building embodies its synergistic and interdisciplinary approach to educational initiatives.
The design team envisioned the building as a hybrid of campus space and building and organized it around two open-air courtyards. Visitors enter through these courtyards, promoting chance meetings and the free exchange of ideas across school departments. The two-story, glazed courtyards draw natural light deep into the building, promoting an airy interior and a continuous connection with nature while supporting the institute’s storm-water management strategy.
Circulation inside the institute is indirect and overlapping. Large floor plates were implemented to increase visual connection across spaces and develop a feeling of a single community of users. Its interior spaces, primarily large and adaptive, can accommodate a wide range of uses. Project and meeting spaces that require acoustic isolation are enclosed by demountable partitions that can be reconfigured over time, maintaining the building’s flexibility.
Overall, the design is forward-thinking in its approach to sustainability. The institute’s second floor, which cantilevers over the ground floor to provide shading, is wrapped in a dynamic facade of ETFE foil cushions that vary the amount of solar energy entering the building through a sophisticated pneumatic system. The entire facade is controlled by an automated system and adapts to shifting weather and daylight in real time to balance energy use and daylight potential.
At just 1 percent of the weight of glass, the foil gives the building a cloud-like appearance. Wrapped around clear acrylic rods at the building’s corners to further enhance its lightweight appearance, it also makes sly references to the importance of corners in van Der Rohe’s body of work. The rest of the institute’s systems are nearly as advanced. Water-filled tubing enclosed in a concrete-filled metal deck provides heating and cooling, while the courtyards are its eyes and lungs to promote natural light and ventilation.
The institute opened in the fall of 2018 to acclaim from the university and public alike. By promoting a curiosity, an entrepreneurial mindset, and a bias towards action, the building has become an important recruitment tool for faculty and students.
"The Kaplan Institute at IIT is an academic building that combines functionality and sustainability into an elegant design solution, all while working within rigorous financial constraints in a setting with tremendous architectural standards." - Jury comment