University of Chicago: Physics Research Center
Award of Merit

Owner: University of Chicago
General Contractor: Berglund Construction Co.
Lead Design Firm: Perkins Eastman
Structural Engineer: Thornton Tomasetti
MEP Engineer: dbHMS

A redesign of the University of Chicago Physics Research Center (PRC), which was built in 1964, was designed to encourage communication, collaboration and camaraderie between the two physics disciplines.

A gut renovation of the interior space, a complete new enclosure and two new occupied floors over the original structure modernized the building. However, bringing the structure into the 21st century wasn’t without challenges.

Designer Perkins Eastman and the university made a decision to retain the existing structure so as to reduce the environmental impact and protect a more-than-50-year-old continuously operating landmark research project that existed in the building. The solution for respectfully expanding the space came in the form of steel framing and lightweight concrete composite floors to minimize the load on the existing structure so as to create two additional stories.

Narrower floor plates on the upper floors allowed more light and better views, and a limestone rainscreen of R-55 insulation helps maximize efficiency.

The expressed structural grid of the original building is apparent on the lower floors, while the modern construction is apparent at the top, melding the past with the present. The project was also selected for an award of merit in the safety category. General contractor Berglund Construction Co.’s work began with a preconstruction master safety plan that reviewed every scope of work. Berglund then analyzed the safety hazards of each of those scopes and took measures to eliminate them.

Berglund required site specific safety plans from each subcontractor on the job and pushed all involved to adhere to OSHA’s 1926 construction standards. All Berglund management and personnel were trained in the OSHA 30 hour and first responder programs. Per OSHA’s request during the last two years of the project, Berglund performed two fall protection stand-downs.

Biweekly safety audits were performed by the vice president of safety and weekly inspections were handled by the site superintendent. The PRC project had no recorded injuries, no lost-time injuries and no general liability damages.