A guided visual tour of the Kaplan Institute

Mon Oct 29, 2018

With the Kaplan Institute officially open as of the October 25 ribbon-cutting ceremony, no doubt many Illinois Tech students, staff, and faculty members are curious as to the layout and operational functions of the building. Thus, guided tours of the new building were held the following day with the building’s architect, John Ronan, as well as the Executive Director of the Kaplan Institute, Howard Tullman. Through these tours, the two laid out many of the building’s core design features, as well as their visions for the space to be used by all Illinois Tech students to pursue innovative ideas and collaborative synergy.

Upon entering the building through its main entrances either from Footlik Lane or the parking lot directly outside the VanderCook College of Music Main Building, visitors are greeted by a welcome desk directly adjacent to the building’s central area: the Victor Morgenstern Pitch. Ronan began his tour of the building in this open presentation space, laying out several of the building’s key characteristics, including the building’s accessibility to all students.

As he described, the Kaplan building “does not belong to any single academic department,” instead falling under the direct jurisdiction of Provost Peter Kilpatrick, which, when combined with the central location of the building on the Mies Campus, lends itself to a space where “creating chance encounters” is a core design tenet. He went to explain how the building follows the horizontal, spread out designs of other Mies buildings on a 24-foot grid system, further facilitating the building’s open and collaborative nature.

Ronan also went on to describe what is perhaps the building’s most distinctive feature: the Ethylene Tetrafluoroethylene (ETFE) foil cushions that make up the exterior of the second floor. He explained how these cushions create a “dynamic façade” capable of changing in response to the outdoor weather, expanding and contracting to control the amount of solar energy entering the building. This operates in tandem with other elements of the Kaplan Institute that allow its very structure to heat and cool itself.

In describing the Victor Morgenstern Pitch itself, Ronan shared his vision of it as a space for “TED-type talks” with its open forum design and large, stairs-like seating creating an area where students can simply socialize. During his tour, Tullman also drew attention to the cushions that line the seating, colored like sticky notes in playful homage to the design inspiration of the building.

Past the Pitch, the Tellabs Innovation Alley (107) comprises the entire southern portion of the building’s first floor. It is in this space that all Illinois Tech students will have their interprofessional project (IPRO) courses. A large, open, and modular ideation space, this area features movable furniture, translucent curtains, ample white board space, and plenty of natural light to facilitate rapid ideation and iterative design with ideas flowing freely.

The first floor of the Kaplan Institute mirrors the circular design processes of ideation and prototyping. Through IPROs and other collaborative efforts in the Innovation Alley, student groups then move into the Crown Family Studio (111) and utilize the crash pods there (also with movable furniture and whiteboard space) to further flesh out their ideas.

From here, the design process moves into the Grainger Maker Space (127) and Janet & Craig Duchossois Idea Shop (116) to allow prototyping and assembly of project concepts. Just like prior iterations of the Idea Shop, these spaces will provide students with all of the tools they will need to rapidly prototype and iterate upon their various concepts, before continuing the cycle by returning to the Innovation Alley and Studio.

Aside from this design-oriented space, the first floor of the Kaplan Institute will also contain the John & Pat Anderson’s Café, offering coffee and light snacks. This café is slated to be open for business in the spring 2019 semester. Two courtyards are also accessible from the first floor, with connections between them and to the second floor of the building, emphasizing an essential connection to nature, as Ronan stated.

The majority of the second floor of the Kaplan Institute is mainly space for the Institute of Design (ID), including administrative offices, enclosed classrooms, open classrooms, lounge spaces, and cubicles for ID students. It should be noted that this space is by no means restricted to the ID, again, Ronan made it clear that the very structure of the building facilitates chance encounters between students of different academic backgrounds, and the second floor is no exception. With open lounge areas, balconies, a terrace, and the Steans Family Kitchen, the building’s second floor is also worthy of exploration.

Of course, a simple description and map of the Kaplan Institute pay it no service in capturing its overall impressions. With the building now officially open, all ID and IPRO classes will occur within it, meaning that every Illinois Tech undergraduate student will be in it at some point. Of course, as a building that will be open 24/7, there is nothing stopping you from meandering about it, finding a cozy study pod, and getting some work (or TechNews articles) done in our newest campus addition.



Images courtesy of Kaplan Institute



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Appears in
2018 - Fall - Issue 8