February 16, 2006
Vol. 25 No. 10

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    Knapps extend history of support with donation of $25 million to help build biomedical facility

    By John Easton
    Medical Center Public Affairs

    Gwen and Jules Knapp were recently thanked for their generous gift of $25 million to the University at a reception in their honor. The Knapps’ gift will help build a new biomedical research facility on campus. This gift follows others from the Knapps, including a $10 million gift for the Gwen Knapp Center for Lupus and Immunology Research.

    Jules and Gwen Knapp of Chicago have donated $25 million toward construction of a state-of-the-art facility that will provide a new home for translational research programs in children’s health, cancer and other medical specialties at the University.

    Soon to be the tallest building on campus at 10-stories, the Jules and Gwen Knapp Center for Biomedical Discovery will provide a focal point for researchers who work at the interface between basic science and medicine. These physician-scientists will translate the sorts of fundamental discoveries made by biologists and geneticists, as well as chemists and physicists, into better care for patients.

    “We are tremendously pleased by the Knapps’ extraordinary history of service and support to the University and proud that they chose to extend that history in this magnanimous and far-sighted way,” said President Randel. “This is a gift that will have a prominent and lasting impact on our campus and on the world of medical science.”

    This is the Knapps’ second multimillion-dollar gift to biomedical research at the University. In 1991, they donated $10 million to establish the Gwen Knapp Center for Lupus and Immunology Research, which is housed in the Jules F. Knapp Research Center. They also support the Gwen Knapp Symposium for researchers interested in lupus, and the Joy Faith Knapp Memorial Lecture on autoimmune disease.

    In honor of the Knapps’ longstanding support for the biological sciences, the University also will name the Knapp Research Complex: a cluster of buildings including the new Jules and Gwen Knapp Center for Biomedical Discovery, the Jules F. Knapp Research Center and the Donnelley Biological Sciences Learning Center.

    Jules Knapp, a prominent Chicago entrepreneur, began his business education by delivering newspapers at the age of 10. He moved on to delivering groceries when he reached 13. At 15, he became a stock boy at Marshall Field’s, and at 17, he sold shoes for a major chain. “Each of these jobs taught me something valuable,” he said, “the importance of teamwork, good communication, honesty, hard work and luck. The harder you work, the luckier you get. From your experiences, if you are honest with yourself, you can discover an ethical way to run a successful business.”

    In 1962, at the age of 34, he started his own paint business, United Coatings, which merged with Pratt and Lambert in 1994, and which Sherwin-Williams purchased in 1996. In 2000, Knapp repeated his early success when he purchased Grisham Manufacturing, a maker of steel security and storm doors. He turned the ailing company around by improving production and customer service and establishing new sales relationships with the retail giants Home Depot and Lowe’s.

    Despite hard work and commensurate good luck, the Knapps’ personal lives have been touched by tragedy. Their daughter, Joy Knapp, suffered for many years from lupus, a poorly understood autoimmune disorder. She died in 2000 at age 37 from complications of lupus nephritis. “We were so frustrated by the lack of knowledge about lupus,” said Gwen Knapp. “We wanted to find a way to fill those gaps, to learn about the disease, what causes it, who is at risk, how to treat it and how to prevent it. Our curiosity led us to the University of Chicago.”

    James Madara, Dean of the Biological Sciences Division and the Pritzker School of Medicine and Vice President for Medical Affairs, noted the Knapps’ commitment to finding ways to understand complex diseases such as lupus. “In this undertaking, their interests and our talents mesh,” said Madara. “The Knapp Center for Biomedical Discovery will exploit the unique ability of our University to gather scientists from many specialties and enable them to cross traditional boundaries to work together on common, fundamental problems.”

    About one-third of the building’s research space will be devoted to the Institute for Molecular Pediatric Science, which will house up to 50 research teams. Physician-scientists in the Institute will explore childhood diseases at the most basic level to reveal, understand, and leverage universal principles that apply to both children and adults.

    One floor of the center will be devoted to cancer research with particular emphasis on understanding metastasis, the process by which cancers spread from the original tumor to distant sites. This floor will provide a new headquarters for the University Cancer Research Center and a home for the Ludwig Center for Metastasis Research. Another floor will house the Institute for Genomics and Systems Biology, which will provide state-of-the-art genomics technologies to support basic and translational research.

    The award-winning Zimmer Gunsul Frasca Partnership of Los Angeles, Calif., designed the Knapp Center for Biomedical Discovery to provide open, efficient and flexible spaces for laboratories and offices and to encourage contact and cooperation within each lab and between different lab groups. In addition to the research spaces, it will feature a garden courtyard, conference and lecture halls, and several multistory public and common spaces, designed to enhance the exchange of ideas between floors.

    The design combines a neogothic, limestone base, reflecting the campus heritage, with the open, airy feel of glass-curtain walls higher up. To lighten the visual impact, the architects varied the shape, glass designs and textures to emphasize the building’s open, translucent qualities rather than its height. The serrated west wall, for example, will give each office a view north to the central city, as well as west over Washington Park.

    Construction of the building began in October 2005, and its expected completion is the spring of 2008. Total cost of the facility will be $160 million. Additional funding for the building will come from the Virginia and D.K. Ludwig Fund for Cancer Research, the University of Chicago Cancer Research Foundation, University resources, borrowing and an ongoing philanthropic campaign.