By its transparency the facade announces the accessible and public nature of Spertus. The new Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies fills what was one of the last open spaces on the historic South Michigan Avenue, directly facing Grant Park.
Like the surrounding buildings, many constructed in the period of tremendous architectural innovation that followed the Chicago fire, this building is forward-looking in its design and use of materials, while maintaining respect for its important setting.
The stone, brick, and terracotta grid of the streetwall tightly frames the narrow glass facade, and it is this dynamic that compels the folding and movement of the glass.
The ten-story faceted window wall is a direct expression of the mission and values of this organization, offering a literal “window” into the world of Jewish learning and culture.
Rather than a traditional cornice, the top of the Spertus facade extends skyward, representing that the pursuit of understanding is infinite.
The average size of each of the facade’s individual panes of glass is consistent with the standard size of the windows in the buildings up and down Michigan Avenue.
Like the bays of its 19th- and 20th-century neighbors, the facets that create the facade’s dynamic crystalline form allow light to extend into the narrow building, while expanding the views enjoyed from inside.
Today’s technology permits these triangulated glass facets, 726 individual pieces of glass in 556 different shapes, to be more spatial than the bay windows of earlier periods. The composition of the facade will change depending on the sun’s position, with facets simultaneously transparent, reflective, translucent, and opaque. At night, the building’s interior light will emit a warm glow.
The geometry of the facade is unique because the surface is constantly tilting in three dimensions, resulting in individual units of glass that are parallelograms rather than rectangles. Only recently has it become possible to delineate and engineer a shape with the complexity of this wall.
The building contains gallery, classroom and library space, as well as a state-of-the-art theater for live performance and film, space for community events and celebrations, and a kosher café in partnership with Wolfgang Puck Catering.
Advancements in material engineering and research allow an insulated glass unit and a 1″ silicone joint to be the only two components keeping wind and moisture from entering the building. The lightness of the wall and absolute minimal use of materials offer great efficiency and sustainability.
In addition the new Spertus will be a model of environmental sustainability, applying new energy-saving technologies throughout. Specifically in compliance with the Silver Level of the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design).