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Logan Center for the Arts opens

The University of Chicago launches its arts hub

 (Photograph: Courtesy of Jason Smith)
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Photograph: Courtesy of Jason Smith

Architects Tod Williams and Billie Tsien photographed at the building they designed, the University of Chicago Logan Center for the Arts, on September 19, 2012. (Photo by Jason Smith)

 (Photograph: Courtesy of Tom Rossiter)
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Photograph: Courtesy of Tom Rossiter

Logan Center for the Arts, University of Chicago

 (Photograph: Courtesy of Tom Rossiter)
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Photograph: Courtesy of Tom Rossiter

Logan Center for the Arts, University of Chicago

The University of Chicago is where Enrico Fermi split the atom, Milton Friedman espoused free-market economics and Barack Obama taught constitutional law. Though overshadowed by other disciplines, the visual and performing arts have a long history there as well—and the university’s Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts(915 E 60th St) now proudly, and very conspicuously, announces their presence on campus.

The $114 million, 184,000-square-foot Logan Center is the new home of the university’s Department of Visual Arts and Department of Theater and Performance Studies. The center celebrates its grand opening with a three-day festival starting Friday 12.

The Logan is the result of ten years of planning, design and construction, according to executive director Bill Michel. Aside from raising the profile of the arts on campus, Michel says, “the center is meant to connect the arts across campus—and to the city and the surrounding neighborhood.”

New York–based architects Billie Tsien and Tod Williams, who won the competition to design the Logan in 2007, used what Tsien calls “intermixing and discovery” to encourage students and faculty to interact across disciplines. As I toured the Logan with the couple last month, Williams told me the legendary, now-defunct studio apartments above Carnegie Hall—where famous creative types such as Marlon Brando, Isadora Duncan and Leonard Bernstein once lived side-by-side—“served as inspiration for this building, even a model.” Like that structure, the Logan places art studios next to theaters, and music rehearsal rooms next to dance studios.

Tsien and Williams are best known for their educational buildings and museums: most recently, the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia. The Logan feels more like a museum than a typical university building. Its beautiful materials and finishes include granite floors, limestone facades and walnut paneling as well as patterned felt wall coverings and ceramic wall tiles—both custom-made. Because even the few windowless offices are lit by skylights, natural light permeates the building.

Located south of the Midway, the center consists of an eight-story tower occupied by classrooms, rehearsal spaces and the “performance penthouse,” and a pair of two-story wings that contain three theaters, a state-of-the-art film screening room, art studios, workshops and offices. The complex wraps around three sides of an outdoor courtyard for live performances. On the courtyard’s eastern edge are the historic Midway Studios—now home to the university’s creative writing program—where sculptor Lorado Taft once worked. (The Midway Studios would make a better fourth wall for the courtyard if the architects had opened up its rear facade with large windows or doors, integrating it into the rest of the complex more effectively.)

A two-level corridor runs through the entire center, and the Logan’s main entryways sit at each end of this so-called street. Along its length, Tsien and Williams insert what they call “points of discovery”: glass expanses that provide views of outdoor spaces, but also internal windows that look into the center’s mammoth set-design workshop and other communal creative spaces. Around every corner is another breathtaking sight of the city and the campus, connecting the Logan visually to its urban context. The architects provide intimate nooks throughout for conversing, reading or simply contemplating the magnificent views.

With its warm Missouri limestone exterior, the Logan fits in gracefully with its older Gothic Revival neighbors north of the Midway. While the sciences might still dominate in that quarter of the campus, the arts now rule supreme to the south.

For opening events, visit loganlaunch.uchicago.edu.

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