6 dec 10  I The Columbia Chronicle

Chicago future home to national museum: Interactive exhibits, new technology in design from renowned architecture firm

by Meghan Keyes

The Field Museum, Art Institute of Chicago and Museum of Science and Industry are a few of Chicago’s popular exhibit halls and tourist destinations. In the spring of 2015, a new institution will be added to Chicago’s list of prestigious museums.

The National Museum of Health and Medicine and the Buonacorsi Foundation closed on a building at 175 W. Washington St. on Nov. 30. The three-story building will house the Chicago branch of the museum in an innovative digital concept at an estimated cost of $40 million–$50 million.

“The idea of the Chicago satellite is it will be a central depository for the digital collections,” said Mike Doyle, president of the Buonacorsi Foundation, which is partnered with the NMHM in the museum’s development. “The museum itself will be an entirely new concept in museum design.”

The museum will be almost entirely virtual, allowing visitors to interact with displays, and the building will house a 300-seat auditorium and virtual reality chamber. The museum selected Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture as designers. The architectural agency designed the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, the tallest building in the world, and designed a green project for the Willis Tower.

“We’re looking at a streamlined approach to an exhibit, specifically through technology that is interactive or programmable,” said Gordon Gill, the project architect. “We think we have an opportunity to immerse the visitor in a more comprehensive experience.”

The building’s exterior will reflect the happenings inside, according to Gill, including the number of visitors. “If you think of the building as a living organism, and the visitor is experiencing [the museum] as a cell of an organism, what is the impact of that cell in the organism?” Gill said. “Instead of being internally focused on its precious contents, we’re more externally focused on its precious contents, we’re more externally focused, willing to share an exhibit and its contents to the street.”

Doyle said the museum aims to be financed entirely through private donations and research-related funding. The foundation is looking for a benefactor whose name would go on the building.

“There’s an opportunity for someone to have a lasting legacy they can pass on,” Doyle said. “We will be talking to the city, county and state to build up support for the idea, [even] if it’s nothing more than moral support.”

The extension will serve as a research facility and resource for educators and the medical community, a main reason the foundation chose Chicago. “This is a central hub for the health and medicine community,” Doyle said. “Surgical societies, many major universities and hospitals … it’s a central location, a major hub for the nation to come through and it makes a tremendous amount of sense.”

Doyle also said the museum will add to the existing community through its own research and collaboration. “It’s unlike anything here now and I think it complements what’s already present in the area,” Doyle said. “We anticipate we will do quite a lot of cooperative projects with the various museums.”

The Chicago Loop Alliance, which works with other museums in the Loop, is optimistic about the presence of a new museum in the downtown area.

“We looked at redeveloping the Loop almost 20 years ago,” said Laura Jones, associate director of CLA. “Certainly bringing in another museum is an asset to the Loop.”

The building will also be sustainable and retrofitted with green technology.

“We’re going to do some process studies so we can understand where we can harvest certain natural aspects … and we will continue to pursue and integrate both active and passive systems in the design of the building,” Gill said.

Doyle said he hopes it will become a community resource and educational tool for years to come.

“Teachers will be able to take classes through the museum … it will be a resource for researchers and for health care providers,” Doyle said. “It’ll be a cultural resource as well, with concerts, events and lectures. That’s a theme we wanted to carry on from the very beginning.”

Along with fundraising events, the building could open within nine months to host a small exhibit space in the storefront area of the building.