Columbia College Chicago
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Glass Curtain Wall Digital Printed in a University Renovation in Chicago
Embedding Authenticity at a Fraction of the Cost
Because the building is located in the Historic Michigan Boulevard Chicago Landmark District, the design of the new façade had to meet the approval of the Commission on Chicago Landmarks. Columbia College explored many façade replacement options, including replicating the original terra cotta. However, costs associated with that approach far exceeded what the college could afford. Instead, Columbia, under the design leadership of Gensler, created a revolutionary solution, which turned a mandatory maintenance project into an artistic endeavor. The technology lynchpin was Dip-Tech digital ceramic printing. “This technology really opens up a range of possibilities for architectural expression. It allows for a degree of customization that was really not achievable before,” said David Broz, Project Director at Gensler.
A further, and extremely important, benefit was the price. The new façade was built at approximately one-quarter of the cost of replacing the terra cotta.
In an effort to integrate the building’s past in a modern way, a digital ceramic printing process was used to overlay an abstract image of the original façade of the building onto a new, energy-efficient curtain wall system. To do that, the team manipulated the few remaining photographs of the original façade digitally, to create an abstract “ghost” image of the building’s past on the new façade.
Next, the team went through a rigorous process of developing and testing a series of pattern typologies. It was critical that the pattern be readable at multiple scales and offer multiple meanings. Looking closely, observers will notice that the image of the original terra cotta façade is created from a dot-matrix pattern with “dots” that are small graphics of a bird. As such, the façade serves the joint purpose of a subtle reference to the building’s location along a major migratory path for birds, as well as a protective screen to prevent birds from colliding with the glass.