commons have uncommon theme
> Long before ground was
broken this spring for the Max Palevsky Residential Commons,
the College community and the building's architect were at work,
planning what they hope will be a happy ending.
is hectic. Arguing about what a categorical imperative really
is can be intense. Eventually, most U of C undergraduates seek
a respite from the intensity of college, Chicago-style.
Ricardo Legorreta, architect for the Max Palevsky Residential
Commons, (see Chicago Journal, pg. 13) believes College students
will find that respite in his building when it opens in the
fall of 2001. In an interview with Architectural Record, Legorreta
said that he cannot separate architecture from happiness and
instills it in all his buildings. "All my life I have tried
to create human emotions," said Legorreta of his designs. "I
hope that students will feel comfortable and happy in the residence
halls and feel encouraged towards friendship and human values."
Architecture critic David Dillon has written that Legorreta's
buildings are places of renewal with an "underlying serenity."
Steve Klass, deputy dean of student services for housing and
dining services and assistant dean of the College, experienced
what Dillon describes when he went to visit Legorreta in Mexico.
"It wasn't until I visited several of his buildings that I
got a sense of how you feel there," Klass says. "People had
described it to me, I'd seen pictures, but one needs to be there
to experience the impact of his use of light, scale and materials."
The Max Palevsky Residential Commons will consist of three
brick buildings, two with adjoining courtyards and glass corner
elements, and one with a four-story glass atrium. Each four-story
building will have a main entrance and elevator.
Legorreta's signature use of color will be found in the courtyards
and corner elements, and inside the buildings' common areas.
Legorreta also has positioned windows to create changing patterns
of light in the lobbies, corridors, and lounges. And he has
created corridors that end not with a wall, but rather a turn
that leads to a day-lit space with views of courtyards and sculpture
gardens. Dillon calls Legorreta a master of "continuous flowing
space that draws us into and through his buildings, like a good
story. We want to know what happens next, and how it all turns
The story of the Palevsky Residential Commons actually starts
several years before the search for an architect began. Although
the task of creating the ideal residence loomed large, the Housing
Office methodically planned for the dorm, one step at a time.
Klass and Cheryl Gutman, director of the University Housing
System, first conducted a series of focus groups with students
and resident staff, and coordinated a comprehensive programming
study to identify what activities should be built into the new
"It was crucial that we commissioned the programming study
before the University even began looking for an architect,"
says Klass, noting that study participants ranged from resident
masters to first-year students. "In organizing the new halls,
our priority was to keep intact that which is revered-our house-based
community programming and houses that retain a cross-section
of first years and returning students."
The community valued the basic structure of residential life:
a system of houses within a dorm, staffed by resident heads
and assistants who create a sense of community for undergraduate
After the University selected Legorreta, he structured his
design to include eight houses with 78 to 106 students per house.
And he continued the process of listening to students and administrators
as they refined their vision of an ideal dormitory.
Kaufman, AB'00, former president of the Inter-House
Council, says that students thought private, two- and four-person
suites with private baths were important, but that the rooms
should be small enough to draw the students out into the common
areas. Current students, says Kaufman, also believe it is important
for younger students to take advantage of such on-site programming
as academic advising and a foreign-language commons. In addition,
they wanted open spaces, large community areas, computer labs,
and large house lounges, all of which Legorreta incorporated.
"By meeting students I understood several things about their
expectations and their lifestyles. It definitely affects the
design in the rooms and furniture. It also encouraged us to
create more possibilities for them to get together and develop
a community life," Legorreta told Architectural Record.
Klass and Gutman continued to relay information between the
architect and students throughout the design phase, says Kaufman.
"I was staggered by how much influence we had in the process.
When we saw the first model, Andy [Hong, '01, former Student
Government president] and I high-fived."
After students toured individual room mock-ups last winter,
the architect modified such details as closet space, shower
height, and electrical outlets. Students liked the room layout
and its flexibility for personalizing their space.
"Architecture should always comply with programmatic demands
as well as aesthetics. Otherwise it is not architecture," said
Legorreta. "I don't see this accomplishment as a compromise,
but as a result of collaboration between the University and
According to Klass, the key to the design was finding the balance
between community and privacy, coming up with the scale and
location of those areas. "The opportunity to work with a world-class
architect and his firm on multiple revisions over time-to match
their bold artistic vision to our programmatic needs-has been
the most interesting and satisfying part of the process," Klass
Construction began in the spring on 56th Street between Ellis
and University avenues. After unearthing old foundations that
may have been the concrete wall surrounding the original Stagg
Field, construction crews began to lay the new foundation, working
sequentially from east to west. By mid-autumn, the floors should
be in place and work will begin on the exterior walls.
The Max Palevsky Residential Commons, along with Regenstein
Library and a converted Bartlett dining commons, will create
a north campus quadrangle that will be a new center of student
activity. If Legorreta is true to form, in that hub of activity
there will be room for serenity.-Jennifer Leovy