Northwestern’s Ford Motor Company Building Evokes Modernity

Some buildings at Northwestern University look old and dreary. The Ford Motor Company Engineering Design Center, which opened in 2005, looks modern. New.

It’s the first Northwestern building to achieve silver-level certification from the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System. The building’s ubiquitous floor-to-ceiling windows not only provide natural light, but reduce the “heat island” effect of the building. The window shades open and close automatically, based on the input of the building’s automated solar tracking system. Perhaps the most obvious indicator is the recycling center on the first floor, which has options for Cans/Plastic, Glass/Cans/Plastic, Trash and Trash/Organic.

Enter the front entryway and to the right is a clear view looking down on the workshop – a huge room with all sorts of heavy machinery for aspiring engineers and designers to have fun with. To the left is a high-tech multimedia display with televisions, speakers, touchscreens and other displays, all extolling the achievements of the Robert R. McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science. Straight ahead is a set of double doors, which don’t so much hinge open as slide open. Past them is the ground floor.

The ground floor is the perfect example of rustic meets modern – the reds and yellows of the chairs overlooking the shop contrast with the shiny metal benches and the translucent glass staircases.

Look up and see that the ceiling is all glass as well. The winter light is bleak, so much so that it looks like the ceiling has been painted with a grayish blue tint. But it’s easy to imagine the sunlight streaming through the ceiling, beaming down onto the floor and showering the floor with natural light.

There are two staircases, one going up and one going down. They are polar opposites. The staircase going up to the academic floors is made of entirely gleaming metal and green-blue translucent glass. It rises closer and closer to the glass ceiling that seems so far away from the ground floor. The staircase going down to the shop and computer labs is not metal and glass, but metal and stone. Walking down it feels like descending into a dungeon.

In the Midwest, darkness comes early in the day. Leaving the building in darkness is a very different experience than entering it in daylight. Some buildings seem dead at night. But this building still feels vibrant, even without light.

It’s not dead. It’s waiting for daylight to come again.

 

Cameron Albert-Deitch // MEDILL

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