Wishnick Hall on the campus of the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago was the first among the recently restored university buildings designed by Mies van der Rohe. Below is a Q&A with Greg Grunloh, AIA, of Holabird & Root, who helped lead the project.
This interview reveals why there are challenges unique to the restoration of an academic science building and how the restoration of a midcentury building can incorporate today’s standards for energy efficiency and comfort.
Q. How has the function of the building changed since it was originally constructed? From the 2003 historic structure report submitted to IIT, it seems that the alterations performed on the building have been largely to accommodate more office space and more divisions of classrooms and labs, versus the large lab space that the building was originally designed to contain. Is IIT less concerned about large labs and research space or has the space of Wishnick Hall limited its ability to house larger research facilities and, therefore, has been used mostly for classes and lectures?
A. The most recent work on the building was intended to restore the exterior façade, and the most public spaces within the building (the auditorium and the lobby) to their original state. In order that the building is still a viable learning space for a modern university many infrastructural changes were made to allow for the addition of all the modern buildings systems that a contemporary science building would require. Making these upgrades within an existing envelope squeezes original program space.
Q. Who exactly uses the building now? From looking at IIT’s website, it seems that there is a mixture of users right now, including the biomedical engineering department and the chemistry department.
A. That is correct, although the building’s original use as a “science” building is still valid.
Q. What is the maintenance of the building like?
A. The building now has a state of the art Building Automation System (BAS). Without knowing the specifics of how the users maintain the building, I would suspect that the systems are monitored and maintained on a routine schedule.
Q. What are the biggest challenges in maintaining the building? Are there any issues that are directly related to the building’s function as a science building?
A. This is a question more specifically for the facilities staff, but having built other science buildings in addition to the restoration/renovation of Wishnick, I know that science buildings, along with medical facilities, are among the most complex building mechanical systems. The volume of air that must be moved through a science building, as opposed to a typical office building, are much higher due to the use of fume hoods, and the importance of air pressure balance between the laboratory and corridor spaces is critical.
Q. Is there a long-term maintenance plan/preservation plan since the last renovation in 2006?
A. Wishnick was the first of the core academic buildings on the campus to be restored, so in that respect it served as the sort of blue print for how these important buildings should be approached. I think the university looks at the long-term maintenance and preservation of the historic Mies buildings on a campus-wide basis and less a building-to-building basis. In that respect, Wishnick is ahead of the eight ball. The original “paint” that was used on the exterior exposed steel was replaced with a high-performance epoxy coating with a life span of decades more than the original coatings. Besides routine maintenance, and a commitment to retain the interior public spaces, including lobby furnishings, in the original state, no other extraordinary measures are needed.
Q. Are there any outstanding and/or pending problems and/or preservation issues?
A. No, all were addressed in the 2006 restoration.
Q. What has been accomplished with the last round of renovations in 2006? It seems the biggest concerns were maintaining the historic integrity of the building, addressed by restoring the ground floor, and accommodating new state-of-the-art technology in the upper floors.
A. In addition to tuckpointing and restoration of the existing masonry, and repair and recoating of the exterior exposed steel, all exterior windows were replaced. The exterior aluminum single pane non-thermally broken double hung windows were replaced with fixed thermally broken insulated glass units. A series of twelve custom dyes were fabricated to almost perfectly match the profile of the original windows but providing much higher energy efficiency and comfort. It was determined to make the replacement windows “fixed” instead of operable due to the critical importance of balancing the laboratories that contained fume hoods.
Q. What materials and products were used in the renovations? What inconsistencies are there with the original design of the building?
A. As many of the new system as practical were placed into Wishnick’s lower level, however the addition of two new air handling units required that more than the original amount of equipment be placed onto Wishnick’s roof. The added weight of this additional equipment led to the need to analyze the structure, which eventually led to additional lateral braces being added within the building’s structure to support the additional roof weight. These new braces were concealed within interior walls and are for the most part not evident to the building’s users.
Mies did not put vestibules on these entries, so the building originally had hydronic blowers to provide warm air at the entries. In the new forced air scheme, we were able to remove these blowers, gut them, and replace them for use as “return air” grilles to the forced air system.
Q. Do the users and owners of the building take pride in the fact that it is a Mies van der Rohe building?
A. Absolutely. IIT takes its role as stewards of the world’s largest collection of Mies van der Rohe buildings very seriously and maintains a long-term commitment to care for these buildings for the use and appreciation of many generations to come.
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