6 feb 17 | South Bend Tribune

Chicago architect preps Studebaker building for 21st-century tech economy

By Margaret Fosmoe

Gordon Gill's firm designs some of world's tallest buildings

Gordon Gill is an internationally known architect based in Chicago whose firm has designed some of the tallest skyscrapers in the world.

He's also leading the renovation of the former Studebaker Corp. assembly plant at 635 S. Lafayette Blvd. in South Bend for 21st-century high-technology uses. Some sections of the complex date back almost a century.

The north, six-story section of the complex was built in 1923 and designed by famed Detroit-based industrial architect Albert Kahn.

Kahn's firm pioneered using reinforced concrete instead of wood in factory construction, providing great strength and large unobstructed views in assembly areas. The 800,000-square-foot former Studebaker complex is a classic example of that technique.

"There's a simple and beautiful element to this building," Gill said in an interview Friday. Kahn "took an industrial building and raised it above the mere utilitarian."

Renovation is meant to update the original structure for new uses, but not erase the original character of the building, he said.

Gill is a founding partner in Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture, a Chicago-based architecture and design firm that focuses on energy-efficient and sustainable projects. The firm specializes in supertall skyscrapers, including the Jeddah Tower under construction in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, which at 3,307 feet is expected to be the world's tallest building when completed in 2020.

At the Studebaker complex in South Bend, interior work is well along in the two-story south building. The first tenant, F Cubed — a biotech firm — already is operating there. CupPrint US, a manufacturer of customizable paper cups, is based in another part of the complex.

Also planned for the complex is a Technology Training & Demonstration Center. The center will provide classrooms, demonstration areas, a lecture area and work with colleges to provide internship opportunities for students in technical programs.

Kevin M. Smith, owner of the former Studebaker complex and neighboring Union Station Technology Center, expects phase 1 — the south building — to be finished and the building fully occupied by this summer.

In that south building, workers have cut a large hole through the roof and the heavy concrete second floor to create a lobby atrium. Natural light will flood in from the planned rooftop garden.

The massive slabs of concrete cut away won't be wasted, explained Gill, whose focus is performance-based architecture. That includes sustainable practices, net zero-energy design and reducing the carbon emissions of urban spaces. The concrete slabs will be used as sculpture pieces and benches.

When Smith was excavating the vacant lot to the south for a parking lot, he found tons of 19th-century bricks buried below the surface. Instead of paying to have them hauled away, Smith had them washed and crushed, and will use the remains as the base for the asphalt parking lot.

Work will begin this summer on the north and east facade of the massive north building. The brick face will be repaired and the windows replaced, but the exterior won't look dramatically different. "It will be a modern rendition of the original intent," Smith said.

Part of the north building is expected to be used for data suites to house computer servers for customers. Heat generated by the data suites will be reclaimed to help heat the complex.

The eventual interior design of the north building, whether offices or work spaces, will be determined by the tenants. The sixth floor may eventually house condominiums or some other form of residential space. The timetable will be determined by which firms become tenants. "I will go as fast as the market demands," Smith said.

Gill spoke to a crowd of undergraduates Friday morning at the University of Notre Dame's Mendoza College of Business.

He described some of his international projects, including Jeddah Tower; the 71-story Pearl River Tower in Guangzhou, China, the world's first net-zero energy skyscraper; the 62-acre plan for Expo 2017 and its sustainable legacy community in Astana, Kazakhstan; and also his involvement in the Studebaker complex project in South Bend.

Gill encouraged a collaborative approach to design, architecture and sustainability. He urged that students of such varied disciplines as architecture, business and political science pool their brainpower to take on the world's challenges.