The William Eckhardt Research Center

Chicago , Illinois / United States of America

Facing the site where Enrico Fermi’s first sustained nuclear reaction transformed the scientific world, the University of Chicago’s William Eckhardt Research Center (ERC) embodies the promise and potential for some of our century’s greatest scientific achievements. Using natural light and communal spaces, the state-of-the-industry facility creates an open environment aiming to recruit and retain the best minds in the natural sciences. Manipulation of light is used on the building’s exterior while seamlessly integrating with the interior. An architect known for unique work with glass collaborated with the team to create a façade prioritizing light, changing throughout the day and seasons. Inside, daylight floods the corridors via clerestory windows above doors and glass-enclosed collaboration areas.

Housing physical and astrophysical sciences alongside chemical, electrical, mechanical and biological engineering, the ERC is a model for enabling interdisciplinary research. Both specific and flexible this world-class building supports a range in research scale and focus, achieved while overcoming numerous challenges such as complex water table and foundation needs.

Problem-Solving Highlights:
Researchers requested an open, transparent building. Since this is not prioritized in many traditional laboratories, light was used as a design driver to propel the ERC to the forefront of modern research needs. The façade features prismatic glass fins, and occupants enjoy clear views of the surrounding campus.  The façade is uniquely responsive to its site and public realm, harnessing light as an organizing principle for the building’s performance.

All elements strategically link people to n­ature, creating a collaborative environment that respects the University of Chicago’s rich architectural heritage while asserting a contemporary presence on the campus’ science quad.  The ERC’s open lobby is intended as a connection between the University and community, and hosts a variety of campus events throughout the year.  

Construction Cost (CONFIDENTIAL):
$225,000,000, including high level of lab and cleanroom buildout.

Architect of Record


Associate Architect

Interactive Design, Inc.


The University of Chicago

General Contractor

W.E. O'Neil


  • Interactive Design
  • Thornton Tomasetti Group
  • Affiliated Engineers