June 12, 2008
Vol. 27 No. 18

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    University to create Center for Physical, Computational Sciences

    By Steve Koppes
    News Office

    The University Board of Trustees has approved HOK as architect for the proposed Center for Physical and Computational Sciences. HOK, a firm with 26 regional offices worldwide, including one in Chicago, has completed several major science and technology projects in recent years.

    The estimated $375 million center will encompass half a million square feet of new and renovated space on the west side of Ellis Avenue between 56th and 57th streets. The scientists who will move into the center currently work in multiple buildings that are either poorly connected or scattered across campus.

    “It’s difficult for the scientists to interact with one another, and now their work is more important than ever,” said Robert Fefferman, Dean of the Physical Sciences Division.

    The center will provide space for three departments: Astronomy & Astrophysics, Physics and Computer Science; and four physical sciences institutes: the Kavli Institute for Cosmological Physics, the Computation Institute, the Enrico Fermi Institute and the James Franck Institute. Construction is scheduled to begin in fall 2010, with completion in spring 2013.

    “The departments and institutes serviced by this ambitious project are gems of the University. These units impact more than just research in the Physical Sciences,” said Fefferman, the Max Mason Distinguished Service Professor in Mathematics and the College.

    For example, computation plays a critical role not only in the division, but also across the University. “You can’t have a great university without developing computation. It’s a major new way of attacking problems.”

    Cosmologists in the new building will grapple with fundamental questions about dark matter and dark energy. These phenomena comprise more than 95 percent of matter and energy in the universe, yet their origin and nature remain a mystery.

    Computer scientists, meanwhile, will develop sophisticated techniques needed in the biological sciences, personalized medicine, and other fields for the analysis of vast data sets.

    The Research Institutes building, slated for thorough renovation, represents a proud scientific tradition that dates back to Nobel laureate Enrico Fermi, Fefferman said. Fermi worked in the Research Institutes after he oversaw construction of the first nuclear reactor across the street during World War II.

    “If you list those who have worked in the Research Institutes in the history of the University, you get an amazing set of scientists who have clearly had a major impact on the recent history of science,” Fefferman said.

    The Research Institutes building was constructed to foster interdisciplinary collaboration between many of the scientists who came to the University to work on the Manhattan Project. The renovated building and a new science tower that will connect to it will serve a similar purpose. “A lot of the architecture will be about the space in between the defined program areas, and how we make those spaces come alive as places to support interaction and collaboration,” said University Architect Steve Wiesenthal.

    HOK has a track record in science and technology projects, including the Georgia Tech Life Science and Technology Complex in Atlanta, the University of Wisconsin Research Complex in Madison, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Pacific Region Center in Pearl Harbor, Oahu, Hawaii.

    HOK’s challenge will be to design an interior that meets the needs of the scientists, while presenting an engaging exterior. The project will entail razing the Accelerator Building, the High Energy Physics Building, the Astronomy and Astrophysics Center and the Low Temperature Laboratory.

    The demolition will make way both for the new building and for new green space between the higher-density medical buildings to the west and the lower-density core of the campus to the east. “By virtue of its location, it will help define a new quadrangle that will bring together all of the sciences,” Wiesenthal said.

    The new center, standing eight stories high, will be important for other reasons as well. It will be a highly visible structure to visitors entering campus from the north, and it will sit across the street from the proposed Joe and Rika Mansueto Library, designed by architect Helmut Jahn.

    Environmental sustainability is a hallmark of HOK designs, and will be incorporated into various aspects of the new center to minimize energy consumption. “Environmental sustainability is something that we’ll be incorporating as a goal in all of our architecture, but in particular this one, given its program about the physical environment,” Wiesenthal said.

    More than 30 percent of the architectural and engineering consulting fees for construction of the center will go to minority and women-owned business enterprises.

    In addition to Fefferman and Wiesenthal, the architect selection committee consisted of Keith Moffat, Deputy Provost for Research and the Louis Block Professor in Biochemistry & Molecular Biology; Simon Swordy, Director of the Fermi Institute and the James Franck Professor in Physics; Todd Dupont, Professor in Computer Science and the College; Nim Chinniah, Vice President for Administration and Chief Financial Officer; and University Trustees Mary Lou Gorno and Gregory Wendt.