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Flexibility key at 'unprecedented' Northwestern facility

Flexibility key at 'unprecedented' Northwestern facility


Meeting almost a year to the day after breaking ground on Northwestern University's new, state-of-the-art home for its Kellogg School of Management, project team members gathered with students, faculty, school officials, and the press for a welcome pulse check. The occasion, an event entitled Conversations on Innovation in Design & Construction, was hosted by the McCormick School of Engineering, and it gave participants a chance to step back and assess progress on the ongoing, $220-million undertaking, still on track to finish in late 2016.

“We're working as quickly as we can to get the building dried in before the winter really hits us,” said Chris Erickson, senior project manager at general contractor Power Construction Co., Chicago. As he spoke, work was still at the heavy civil and structural stage, and slab-on-grade milestones had only just been met on the five-story, 410,000-sq-ft, lakefront facility. Designed by Toronto-based KPMB Architects, the new academic hub will become a “next-generation business school [that] combines the physical and virtual in unprecedented ways.” 

According to KPMB, the project’s innovations are best illustrated by progressive design elements such as radiant heat, LED lighting, underfloor air distribution for classrooms, and an ultra high-performance building envelope, among other features. Lean technology, global procurement, and geothermal construction all combine for a flexible, multi-use, 21st Century, academic environment. Despite 16 years of frontline management experience, Erickson admitted that he was enthusiastic about the project's use of developing technology. And he appreciates the opportunity this work has afforded him to leverage those new capabilities to enable such ambitious construction methodologies.

“On the project site, we’re all digital. If you step into our trailer, you won’t see paper anywhere,” he said. Specifcally, Power employs proprietary software for RFIs, change management and timecards, as well as Bluebeam software, Newforma tools, and BIM for ongoing collaboration.

Kellogg students, faculty, administrators and alumni all played a hand in the design process, according to Poets & Quants, the online social network for graduate business schools. The design team even visited firms such as Google and Pixar to see how they have created spaces for collaborative learning and innovation. At Northwestern, that inspiration will take the shape of traditional lecture-style classrooms that can be reconfigured into large seminar rooms, offices that can be converted into study rooms, and a two-story, 6,600-sq-ft Conservatory with a view of Lake Michigan. It will be able to hold 250 people for dinners, or audiences of 350 for speeches and presentations.

"This building is going to send a big message about the future of education, especially with schools of management," predicted architect Bruce Kuwabara, founding partner of KPMB. "You don't want to be just another business school; you want to breach the paradigm, and that's what Kellogg has done."

For their part, the owners seem just as excited, and have been since Day One.

“We asked for a design that captures Kellogg's courageous and collaborative culture,” said Dean Sally Blount at the groundbreaking. The new building, itself, "will set a standard for how we teach at Kellogg," she added.

A year later, those predictions still appear to be on track.

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