Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat
Roosevelt University; Chicago Auditorium Building and new Vertical Campus Tower Tour

December 2011
by Robert Lau
and Patti Thurmond

See more CTBUH Tours and Visits

The CTBUH staff observed history being made as Chicago’s past meets Chicago’s future in the Roosevelt University buildings on the corner of Wabash and Congress. Between the gowns and congratulatory balloons of the Roosevelt University Fall Commencement, the CTBUH staff met on December 16, 2011 for a holiday tall building tour of the historic Auditorium Building and the new adjacent Roosevelt Tower – a vertical campus for Roosevelt University in downtown Chicago.

Jon B. DeVries (Director of the Marshall Bennett Institute of Real Estate) meets CTBUH staff at Roosevelt University downtown campus for the tour. The new Roosevelt University vertical campus building nears completion at 425 S Wabash Avenue.

Steven Hoselton, Vice President of Campus Planning and Operations at Roosevelt University, explained that when completed in 1889, the Auditorium Building was the tallest structure in Chicago and the first multi-use designed building in the world, as well as one of the heaviest, with it's thick stone structural support walls. Designed by the famed team of Dankmar Adler and Louis Sullivan, it occupies a city block from Michigan to Wabash Avenues on Congress Parkway. The world class theater was built to make a statement that Chicago "had arrived" as a major US city. An ingenious plan of hotel and business offices in the building program held promise to secure the economic future of the venture.

Steven Hoselton (Vice President of Campus Planning and Operations at Roosevelt University) began the tour at Adler and Sullivan’s historic Auditorium Building.

First class hotel rooms available on the Michigan Avenue side of the building included the special amenity of bathing facilities in each individual room. Adding to the avant garde features of the building was the use of the new electric light, found replicated today to the original form. Though designed to give financial support to the theater, the smart plan could not withstand the economic crash of the great depression, and the building closed in 1937. Following years of abandon, in 1946 the new Roosevelt University acquired the Auditorium Building for a mere $1 and began restoration of the significant site.

During WWII, much of the building was used as troop housing, and the Auditorium Theater itself was used as a bowling alley, with much of the stained glass spray painted black. However, you would never know that to view the building today.

Balustrades and handrails, windows and wall panels throughout the Auditorium building have been restored to former days of glory. Placque of Adler & Sullivan office plan as hanging in the hallway of their original Auditorium tower office space.

The tour began on the Wabash Avenue side, designed as the office function side of the building. By using transferring elevators at the 8th floor, Mr. Hoselton led the tour to the 17th floor in the Auditorium building tower, the former offices of Adler & Sullivan. From 1889 until 1895, the firm of Adler & Sullivan occupied this floor, where a young draftsman named Frank Lloyd Wright worked. Louis Sullivan continued an architectural office here until 1918. The tower is a tight rectangular plan with city views in all directions, perfect for design inspiration. Designed with just one narrow stairway, an exterior fire escape has been added. Today this would be marketed as a boutique office space. It now contains offices for Roosevelt's Department of Psychology.

Southern lake view from Adler & Sullivan offices in the Auditorium building tower. Restored stairs descend in the Auditorium building from the lofty office perch.

Along the Wabash office corridor, the building still holds an original office space in honor of Frank Untermyer, a former Roosevelt professor. His university contract bargained for a salary of only $1 per year throughout his tenure, in exchange for the promise that the University would leave at least this one office suite untouched and maintained in a preserved state.

Untermyer preserved offices: two building perimeter offices share an office reception space. Glass transoms and door panels in all office doors allow natural light and air ventilation from exterior windows through to the hallway.

The large library space, originally used as a hotel dining hall, features murals depicting the Midwest harvest and generous windows to be able to see across Lake Michigan on a clear day.

Ganz Hall and the library were built over the Theater itself on the 10th floor. Both of these spaces had been used by the original building hotel. Ganz Hall, which is now restored and used as a performance space, was once used by masons as a basketball court. Today, preservation efforts are satisfied with beautifully crafted and uniquely detailed column caps and wood panels with reproductions of the original light fixtures.

A fact most interesting about the structure is that it was constructed over wet timber piles in the swamp substrate of the city. These foundation piles must remain wet even today in order to function properly. If they should dry out it could produce settlement of the entire structure. Today, building operations closely monitors lake water levels to guarantee this hydrated state.

The grand staircase of the historic hotel has been preserved to full glory in the Auditorium Building.

The 2nd floor veranda was a main hotel feature prior to mechanical ventilation, when large windows over Michigan Avenue brought in cool summer breezes.

Descending the grand stairway of the former hotel to the second floor Feyman Lounge, one can easily imagine turn-of-the-century hotel guests gathering on the veranda with large open balcony windows drawing in the Lake Michigan breeze. In a bygone day, one could watch the world go by and enjoy the Lake view. The stairway, Lounge and balcony have preserved mosaics and details from the original hotel. This building was constructed in an era when hotels were the center of urban life.

Ganz Hall for performing arts features beautifully preserved stained glass, wood panels and murals with reproductions of the original light fixtures. 

Design architect Joe Deitz explains the transfer elevators and security features of the adjacent multi-use spaces in the new Roosevelt University building.

Moving from the 19th to the 21st century was as easy as taking a 6th floor direct passage connection to the new Roosevelt tower vertical campus. The design architect, Joe Dietz, Senior Associate at VOA Associates, led this part of the tour along with Steve Siegle, also of VOA. The new campus tower is 32 floors (469 feet / 143 meters) and has ten elevators that join the layered functional spaces. Built on a tight urban site, city residents have watched the tower rise behind the preserved 20 foot (6 meter) wide x 6-story high historic façade of the original Fine Arts Annex building.

Floors 1-5 contain student service areas, such as dining and recreational space. Floors 6-13 contain classrooms including laboratories for physics, biology and chemistry. Floors 11 and 12 will house the Heller Business School and Marshall Bennett Real Estate Institute. Their tiered lecture hall has windows on the south and east with views into Grant Park. Floor 14 is a sky-lobby which serves as a connection/security space between the public use floors below and the student housing floors above (floors 15 to 31). The top floor (32) is a mechanical penthouse. The tower will feature a green roof, as well as many additional sustainable building features.

One of the most interesting spaces is the large, open dance rehearsal space on the 4th floor of the new vertical campus. Featuring a 14 foot ( 4.3 meter) ceiling height and isolated concrete floor slab, this space is specifically intended for service to the performing dancers of Auditorium Theater productions. Even though it is housed in the new tower it has a direct connection to the dressing rooms and stage of the Auditorium Theater; quite a unique function and one more layer of complexity to an already complex building program.

Double height common space on the Wabash Avenue side of the new vertical campus building.

New Roosevelt University vertical campus dance studio, which features direct dancer access to the Auditorium Theater.

In addition to seminar spaces, the vertical tower features high tech, super clean laboratory and science classroom spaces.

Mr. Dietz directed us to a typical student residence on the 17th floor that includes two doubles and four singles. What this means is two rooms for two students and four rooms for one student each, with HVAC individually controlled by the students. We found these to be very spacious with excellent views of the city. The student floors also include study areas with Grant Park views for individual reading or relaxing. Our one question was if we needed to be a student in order to live here? These will be lucky students indeed!

Vertical campus dormitory floors feature an east study lounge with views of the lake and Grant Park.

Dormitory rooms on floors 15-31 feature fantastic city views.

Standing L-R: Patrick Bayard, Seth Ellsworth, Payam Bahrami, Marshall Gerometta, Crystal Yeojin Jeon, Steven Henry, Patti Thurmond, Tansri Muliani, Antony Wood, Robert Lau, Carissa Devereux, Joe Dietz (design architect, Senior Associate at VOA Associates), Walter E. Heller (Roosevelt University College of Business), and Sofia Dermisi (Professor, Marshall Bennett Institute of Real Estate). Kneeling L-R: John Lindbloom, Nathaniel Hollister, Jon B. DeVries (Director, Marshall Bennett Institute of Real Estate), Jacki Twardowski, and Yujia Deng.

It was amazing for us to see so many university functions stacked vertically on this tight urban site. It is a perfect fusion of the old (Auditorium) and the new (425 S Wabash) to compliment each other. Each building was constructed in its own time but, as a whole, function as a combined unit in a complex program. It is truly a unique facility, that has been conceived over the years, for an active and vibrant urban organization.

South evening view from a bedroom suite of the new vertical campus building overlooking the Auditorium Theater tower.

CTBUH would like to sincerely thank CTBUH organizational members: Jon B. DeVries (Director, Marshall Bennett Institute of Real Estate), Walter E. Heller (Roosevelt University College of Business), Professor Sofia Dermisi (Marshall Bennett Institute of Real Estate), and design architect, Joe Dietz, Senior Associate at VOA Associates for sharing their time and efforts to organize and lead CTBUH staff on this tour of Roosevelt University's significant historical buildings.