Michelson Center for Physics wins AIA Chicago Design Excellence Award

October 25, 2019

Photo by Jean Lachat

The Michelson Center for Physics at the University of Chicago was awarded an AIA Chicago Design Excellence Award in the Distinguished Building category at Navy Pier on October 25. The Design Excellence Award recognizes the best work by Chicago architecture firms worldwide as well as Chicago-based projects by national and international firms.

Perkins Eastman designed the major renovation of the building, expanding the original two-floor structure to four floors of laboratory, office, and collaborative spaces in 2017. The Michelson Center for Physics now houses 150 scientists who make pioneering explorations of the mysteries of the universe–the fundamental constituents and properties of matter, such as the Higgs boson, dark matter and energy, cosmic rays, black holes, and neutrinos.

Originally designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merril and built in 1965 with NASA funding as the Laboratory for Astrophysics and Space Research, the building is now home to UChicago’s physics faculty members as well as the Enrico Fermi Institute, founded shortly after World War II to pursue experimental and theoretical research in high-energy particle physics, astrophysics, plasma physics and other fields; the Kadanoff Center for Theoretical Physics, which brings together theorists across disciplines, from condensed matter physics to string theory and hydrodynamics, to accelerate inquiry into fundamental questions; and the Center for Bright Beams, which develops science underlying advanced particle accelerators.

"This award is a well-deserved recognition of Perkins Eastman's achievement," said Emil Martinec, former EFI Director who worked with the firm on the project. “They endeavored to determine our needs, and then create a beautiful space to meet those needs.  The result helps foster interdisciplinary research and invites scientific collaboration.  We are delighted with our new home."

The Michelson Center for Physics, formerly the Physics Research Center, was renamed in August in honor of former faculty member, Albert Michelson, a pioneering scientist who was the first American to win a Nobel Prize in the sciences. His discoveries set the stage for the theory of relativity, and his experimental techniques continue to be used today. The University marked the dedication of the building with a scientific panel and reception on October 25, the same night of the award ceremony.