Graham Study Center

The Graham Study Center at the Art Institute of Chicago’s architecture department came about as a result of a major grant from the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts.  Located in 2860 square feet of the Art Institute’s concourse level, it is home to the architecture department’s curatorial staff, as well as the vast archive of drawings and architectural fragments amassed by its distinguished department.  It is also a study center in the sense of providing work space for scholars working on projects connected with the Institute’s archival material.

The preexisting space was utilized by the Art Institute’s Slide Library. A dropped ceiling truncated what windows that existed reinforcing the “below grade” reality.  By removing that suspension system the space was heightened by 25%, (combined with minimum exposed ductwork), combined with attaining the maximum possible north light.

The parti was evolved simply as a product of the bipartite nature of the Study Center’s use:  Excluding the reception area, fully 50% of the space accommodates the archive (including exhibition prep workspace); the remaining 50% is the site of staff, as well as scholars and conferencing.  A long gallery leads to the Graham Study Center, which houses certain archival material that is permanently exhibited there.  Following this gallery is a transition space which is clad in aluminum checker plate, enunciating the entrance to the study center.  A deteriorating three-D grid is employed so as to structure work space and establish both hierarchy for the director and his staff, as well as to provide individuated work stations for scholarly research.

The organizational structure of the deteriorating grid emanates from the cross-axis leading to exhibition prep.  The space of the grid expands as a function of the arithmetic erosion of its own materiality, allowing for a subtle hierarchy to occur directed, on the one hand, toward the director’s work station, and on the other hand, toward the conferencing area.  As the grid materially deteriorates, that erosion is marked by the increasing presence of its underlying structure.  Carpet tiles further this understanding, as does the use of color in order to legibly convey the spatial organizing principal.  The long axis leading from reception toward the director’s work station terminates in a mirror, reflecting the participant’s progression through the space.