Gensler and Sterling Bay design Chicago laboratory to resemble a hotel


Light-filled spaces, neutral-toned furniture and a sculptural spiral staircase bring a hospitality feeling to this life sciences building in Chicago, designed by architecture studio Gensler and developer Sterling Bay.

The eight-storey 1229 W Concord Place building is located at the Lincoln Yards development, northwest of Downtown Chicago and beside the north branch of the Chicago River.

Double-height lobby with lounge-like seating areas
The building’s double-height lobby features comfy lounge areas

Intended to bring much-needed lab spaces to this part of the city, which has a growing scientific community, the building’s developer Sterling Bay hopes it will foster collaborative research and new medical breakthroughs.

“The new lab space will house world-class innovators and industry-leading companies that seek to develop groundbreaking medical solutions in Chicago and create a sense of community within their workplace,” said the project team.

White spiral staircase behind a seating area
A spiral staircase connects the lobby with the floor above

Gensler’s Chicago office worked with Sterling Bay’s in-house design studio on both the architecture and interiors, with a focus on natural light and “bright, airy, open spaces”.

The building is clad almost entirely in glass, which wraps around its curved corners, while terraces are cut into the side facing the river and the skyline.

Neutral-toned wood panelling and furniture
Neutral-toned wood panelling and furniture create a hospitality-style aesthetic

In the double-height lobby, the stark white interiors are warmed by brass accents and soft, neutral-toned furniture.

Several seating areas comprising comfy sofas and accent chairs are arranged on large textured rugs, and dotted with planting.

Elevator bank with arches over doorways on either side
The warm material palette continues in the elevator bank

Panels of vertical wooden louvres and shelving provide a backdrop to these lounges, creating a scene that looks more like a hotel lobby than a science centre.

A sculptural spiral staircase connecting the ground and first floors is loosely based on a DNA helix.

Bright conference room with chairs facing a stage
Open floor plans and dedicated conference rooms are filled with natural light

This feature provides another focal point in the lobby, which also doubles as a large meeting space and a reception area for events.

“With warm hospitality-inspired interiors, sophisticated communal spaces, and a robust amenity selection centred around wellness, the design provides future tenants the opportunity to conduct cutting-edge research in a space that prioritises the wellbeing of scientists,” Steph Geronimo Smothers, vice president of design at Sterling Bay, told Dezeen.

The amenities offered to tenants include a fitness centre, a cafe and conference spaces, while flexible floor plans allow tenants to customise their workspaces to suit their needs.

The building also features Circadian rhythm lighting, which mimics changing daylight conditions to improve mood and sleep cycles.

Outdoor terrace with view of Chicago skyline
Staff can utilise the expansive terraces accessible from each of the building’s eight storeys

Staff are encouraged to spill out onto the large outdoor terraces, accessible from every floor, and make the most of the fresh air.

“1229 West Concord’s panoramic city views and expansive riverside terraces create a deep connection to nature, bringing in natural light and fresh air and pushing the boundaries of modern lab space to encourage blue-sky thinking and collaboration,” said Geronimo Smothers.

Glass-wrapped building overlooking the Chicago River and the city skyline beyond
The glass-wrapped building overlooks the Chicago River and the city skyline beyond

Other laboratory buildings with unconventional architecture and interiors include the Walton Center of Planetary Health at Arizona State University, which Grimshaw and Architekton based on natural elements such as rocks and saguaro cacti.

Gensler’s Chicago office also recently completed a series of renovations to the city’s sprawling 1930s The Merchandise Mart.

The photography is by Hal + Merick + McCaugherty.


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