This old 64-acre Chicago railyard, vacant for decades, is being redeveloped to reconnect and revitalize two important neighborhoods

In Chicago, Illinois on September 23, 2022, as part of his focus on expanding Illinois’ innovation economy, Governor JB Pritzker and the University of Illinois System’s Discovery Partners Institute (DPI) unveiled the design for the new headquarters in The 78, home to a revitalizing new innovation district along the Chicago River.

Located southwest of the Loop on a one-acre piece of a former railyard that had been left vacant for decades, the new building will provide more than 200,000 square feet of office, classroom, lab, and event space for DPI and its university and industry partners.

The ambition for the ground level-design is to make this public building a public amenity,” said Jim Underwood, executive director of the Illinois Capital Development Board. “It’s also designed for scientists, students, professors, entrepreneurs and industry to collaborate and build things together.

It will mark the beginning of a transformation that will connect the South Loop and Chinatown, reconnecting the community by filling a 62-acre rail yard void that has long separated them.

The State of Illinois is building a world-class innovation hub in the heart of Chicago on the site of an old railroad yard that has sat vacant for decades,” said Pritzker.

Already DPI has helped launch our state’s COVID-testing system, is searching for COVID-19 and other viruses in our wastewater, and is training hundreds of students for careers in tech – and has a plan to spread the opportunities equitably. This futuristic design from OMA/Jacobs matches our ambitions,” he added.

Architecture firms OMA, under the direction of partner Shohei Shigematsu, and Jacobs Engineering are leading the design. The Illinois Capital Development Board oversees design and construction.

DPI cultivates opportunities for research, learning, and innovation to diverse communities, requiring an architecture that adapts to continued growth of its programs. We wanted to provide a building that fosters interdisciplinary interaction and experimentation,” said Shigematsu.

The State of Illinois has provided $500 million in capital funding to launch DPI and establish its Innovation Network at regional universities throughout the state. DPI is part of the University of Illinois System.

Our interdisciplinary team believes strongly in a collaborative approach to design, and with a long history of working together, we know how to approach the unique and exciting challenges of the project — elevating the process and the outcomes,” says Kitts Christov, Vice President at Jacobs.

OMA/Jacobs and our partners are truly honored to be leading this legacy project that will create enduring social and economic value to our communities, the Greater Chicago Metropolitan Area and the State of Illinois,” she explained.

The project is expected to break ground in 2024, becoming the first building to begin construction in The 78 Innovation District.

Chicago has long been known as a hub for technology and innovation, and is home to incredible industry talent,” said Chicago Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot.

With this new building, DPI will both build on this reputation and be able to draw from our robust talent pool. I look forward to seeing this project come to life and kick off the creation of our city’s new innovation district,” she continued.

The building is designed to create strong connections to the surrounding neighborhoods. Its multi-directional form is impartial to any one specific direction to engage communities on all sides of the building, the adjacent riverfront, and future phases of the larger Innovation District at The 78.

Related Midwest, the developer of The 78, donated the land for DPI and will oversee the continued buildout of the 62-acre property.

Already DPI is working with our many partners – in industry, government and across K-12 and higher education – to tackle real-world challenges and create businesses and jobs,” said Tim Killeen, president of the U of I System.

We are deeply grateful to Governor Pritzker, the State Legislature, Related Midwest and the Capital Development Board for their investment in our universities and in the collective power they hold to move Illinois forward and ensure it prospers,” he added.

The base of the eight-story building will be populated with space that will be shared with the public: a café, auditorium, and multipurpose exhibition space/classrooms.

“Our architects describe our central atrium as ‘an active collision zone,’ and I love that,” said DPI Executive Director Bill Jackson.

We’re here to foster new relationships and bring more women and people of color into the tech industry. We can’t wait to have a building that will help us accelerate our growth and make new connections,” he added.

The building’s main entry will be located at 15th Street and Wells-Wentworth. A Richard Hunt sculpture will anchor the site landscape.

Programs are organized to maximize efficiency and potential to converge, and variegated layouts are configured around a central zone of collisions. A soft, transparent form and public ground floor offer an open invitation for the community to the building and its network,” he continued.

As an anchor of The 78 and a building with world-class architecture, the Discovery Partners Institute will uphold Chicago’s tradition of innovative design,” said Ann Thompson, executive vice president of architecture and design at Related Midwest and board chair of the Chicago Architecture Center.

Related Midwest is proud to collaborate on this important project, and we welcome the way it stands as a prototype for how equitable design transforms communities,” she concluded.

The DPI design team is Jacobs and OMA New York, led by Partner Shohei Shigematsu and Associates Christy Cheng and Jake Forster.

Image courtesy of OMA.

See Jacobs Engineering website.

See OMA website.

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