In 2016, around 200 college freshmen will move from their parents' houses into a Jeanne Gang–designed mini-tower in Chicago. (See our review here.) The new dorm and dining hall, to be built at the northern edge of the University of Chicago's campus, will offer its mostly teenage residents a starchitect address to call their very own, while costing them the right to complain about anything ever again—except maybe the food, because it's college, and as far as we know no celebrity chef deal has been inked for that cafeteria.
Top designers are by no means a new presence on college campuses; it's just that their talents are usually reserved for academic buildings (Rem Koolhaas's Milstein Hall at Cornell), museums (I. M. Pei's Indiana University Art Museum), and performance halls (Frank Gehry's Fisher Center at Bard).
But very few schools have given their students the starchitect treatment over the years.
Renderings of Jeanne Gang's U Chicago dorm
Chicago did, sort of, when it converted a 1962 academic building by Edward Durell Stone into undergraduate housing back in the ’80s. The University of Toronto commissioned graduate housing from Morphosis in 2000, followed soon after by MIT with this live-in light cube by Steven Holl. And Yale students have been living in a pair of Eero Saarinen-designed residential colleges since 1962 (though they were unpopular until KieranTimberlake did an upgrade in 2011).
Starchitect-designed dorms by Morphosis, Steven Holl, and Eero Saarinen (updated by KiernanTimberlake). Last photo: Peter Aaron/OTTO
In many cases, though, students' exposure to the good stuff is limited to public spaces. After hours they're left to slink back to their bland-box dorms to absorb the tough lessons of real-estate plebeianism through linoleum floors and poorly ventilated communal bathrooms. If that old cliché of college reminiscence—the “late-night rap session”—really does foster socialist tendencies, it's only because the common room carpets haven't been changed since the ’60s!
U Chicago's roster of name-brand commissions includes Edward Durell Stone's academic-building-turned-dorm, Eero Saarinen's law school, and a medical center by Rafael Viñoly. Photos: via the university's website
Like many of its peers, U Chicago has its own roster of boldface buildings, including a law school designed by Eero Saarinen in the 1950s, and the University of Chicago Medicine Center for Care and Discovery, completed last year by Rafael Viñoly. But once Studio Gang builds the new residence hall, Chicago students won't have to become doctors or lawyers to reap the benefits of contemporary design. English majors and theater nerds can finally take a turn at the top of the real-estate heap, if only for a semester or two, and they can do it from their beds, in their pajamas, borne up by the fumes of microwaved popcorn!
And who knows? A taste of the good life might make business majors of them all. Or, failing that, helipad attendants at Zaha's Miami condo tower.
Want more of Jeanne Gang's glam student dorms? We gave them the Rendering Redux treatment and wondered if they fit in with UChicago's Goth architecture. Also, check out our roundup of the best-designed architecture schools.