Upstaging Adler & Sullivan's rock-solid Auditorium Building in downtown Chicago is a glassy new landmark for Roosevelt University. The school's “vertical campus,” set to open next March, has faced difficult obstacles—tight laydown and delivery zones, delicate underground work, tough hoisting logistics, to name a few—but the building team is handily making the grade on the $118-million project.

The first challenge to overcome had to do with fire safety. In 2004 the city adopted a new code requiring pre-1975 high-rises to be equipped with automatic sprinklers. That meant Roosevelt University would have to retrofit its 19-story Herman Crown Center, a residence hall built in 1970. The school had a big decision to make: modernize or rebuild.

“We said the building just isn't worth the investment of putting sprinklers in,” says Steven Hoselton, associate vice president in charge of campus operations. At the same time, enrollment was up, and the school had just received its first credit rating. Bonds funded the new urban campus, and the project's budget has benefitted from the ongoing industry slowdown.

The design, by Chicago-based architecture firm VOA Associates Inc., incorporates a 32-story, 400,000-sq-ft tower that combines retail, office, classroom, cafeteria and student housing in one structure. Making room for the structure required the school to tear down Herman Crown and an adjacent Fine Arts Annex, whose six-story facade is being preserved.

Hemming in the tight, 17,000-sq-ft site is a private parking lot to the north, the Auditorium Building to the east and south and elevated tracks to the west. The 157-ft-long and 95-ft-wide building stacks its amenities in varying floor-to-floor heights. “There are no two floors that are exactly the same,” says Hoselton, who adds that building-information modeling helped keep the project, which is targeting LEED-Silver status, in check.

Floors one through five feature student support—including a cantilevered bridgeway to the Auditorium Building on the second floor. On floors six through 13, it houses classrooms and offices, while floors 14 to 32 contain student housing with views of Lake Michigan.

The building's saw-tooth shape required floor plates on the short sides of the building to reach out beyond its steel columns at varying lengths to locate the curtainwall. More than 2,200 glass panels, supplied by Italy-based Permasteelisa Group, drape the building in a sea of blue. On the north side are dark precast-concrete panels that contrast against the blue glasswork.

Once it stabilized the Fine Arts Annex's facade in the spring of 2010, general contractor Power Construction Co. LLC, Schaumburg, Ill., and its subs awaited demolition. A prolonged teardown and union strike delayed construction by about 10 weeks. But that was a drop in the bucket compared with the earthwork challenges.