Northwestern University’s new music and communication building is located on the southeastern edge of the Evanston campus, sitting on a prime site fronting Lake Michigan. The design of this world-class facility is a response to the university’s goal to provide a dramatic architectural statement that signifies the public importance of the School of Music and optimizes views of the lake. Designed to wrap and connect with an existing 1970s music building, the new Ryan Center enables the School of Music to consolidate its programs for the first time ever, completing a more than 40-year vision.
Guided by the university’s master plan in conjunction with other fine and performing arts facilities, the building forms a new quadrangle that provides a physical identity for the collaborative arts community. The dynamic, Z-shaped plan of the building mass defines the eastern edge of a new arts green then jogs to the western edge of the lake. A large atrium divides this form, providing the main entry and gathering space and offering striking views of the lake. Building materials relate to other campus facilities, with the three main performance venues—recital hall, opera/black box, and choral—all clad in limestone. The classrooms, offices and practice rooms are enclosed with a unique double-skin façade designed to provide each practice room with absolute acoustical separation. Certified LEED-NC Gold, the building offers a variety of innovative sustainable features, including the double-skin façade, a greywater system, and other initiatives.
The 400-seat recital hall is the building’s most prominent feature. A 40-foot-high double-skin glass wall provides the performers with Lake Michigan and the Chicago skyline as a dramatic backdrop. To address acoustical challenges of the monumental glass wall, the inner glass slopes inward, eliminating reverberation. Horizontal woven-wood panels on the other three sides further absorb reflections while lending a feeling of warmth. The entire room works in harmony to provide a dramatic visual and acoustical setting for world-class performances of all kinds.