Architect Discusses Law School Renovations

Design Essay: Renovating mid-Century Modern Libraries
Mark C. Hirons
June 8, 2010

The University of Chicago’s Law School campus, designed in 1958 by Eero Saarinen, is a quintessential piece of mid-Century Modern architecture. In 15 years of working with the Law School and the university, OWP/P | Cannon Design respected the functional and Modernist aesthetic and built upon the strength of Saarinen’s original design with numerous renovations and additions. The redesign modernized and enhanced spaces to improve the quality of the student experience, better support 21st century learning methodologies and completely replace and upgrade the campus’ infrastructure to improve energy efficiency and technology. Ultimately in rehabilitating and recapitalizing the campus, OWP/P /Cannon Design served as stewards to Saarinen’s architectural vision for this prestigious law school.  

Elevating the Student Experience

Throughout renovations of classroom, auditorium, lounge, and library environments the various deans of the law school understood the importance of elevating the student experience.  Often previously perceived as a cold, somewhat sterile setting indicative of many mid-Century Modernist buildings, the goal of making these spaces feel engaging and expressing the highest level of quality was essential.   

Within the classroom wing, a new concourse was created to provide supporting learning spaces just outside seminar rooms and provide accessibility to all.  Acoustical wood panels were incorporated to enhance the acoustics and aesthetic quality of the spaces and create a sense of warmth. The auditorium was transformed into a more flexible, accessible space that now also serves as a large classroom with custom wood/upholstered seating with power/data access, writing surfaces, microphones for interaction, and one of favorite student features, cup holders.  

Within the library, the student services offices were integrated into a single suite to provide students a single point to access all administrative resources needed during their term in law school, thus streamlining the student’s experience. This space was made accessible by means of a new stair within the reading room, which acts as a centerpiece for student circulation and activity. By relocating up to 30 percent of the book collection to an automated robotic retrieval book system on campus, the library gained significant area to support various student study spaces including, private carrels, quiet individual/team conference rooms, open collaborative custom study tables, lounge setting, and a media lounge.