Charles R. “Chuck” Middleton of Roosevelt University | Interview

Roosevelt University’s outgoing president tells us what the Wabash Building has meant to this urban campus.

Charles R. Middleton will retire at the end of June after 13 years as Roosevelt University president. VOA recently spoke with Middleton about collaborating with VOA on the creation of the LEED Gold multipurpose vertical campus, the Wabash Building.


What was the long term thinking on what this building would do for Roosevelt?

I think the key thing is that this is a building with multiple uses and multiple purposes. We don’t have a lot of square footage on our footprint in the loop and it’s very difficult and overly expensive to acquire additional land.

You rarely get an opportunity to build, and when you do, you have to take full advantage of the sky as it were. We have a lot of FAR on this corner because the Auditorium Theater building is so massive.

The real height limit is 100 stories, far more than we need. Building vertically gave us an opportunity to create a truly multi-purpose building. That’s why this building is a spectacular building to live and work in.

Was there also thinking about what kind of university you wanted Roosevelt to be?

We were already pretty far along that path. That decision had been made. There were and are other models, but basically we needed more residential capacity and we needed newer and more efficient and modernized teaching facilities. Those were the two big drivers for building new rather than renovating.

Did you find working with VOA to be a collaborative process?

First of all, we put out an RFP for architects and interviewed a lot of people. One of the things that was clear to us was that the collaborative nature of the way VOA works with its clients made them different in the marketplace to many of the others, if not most of the others.

Once we had decided to go with VOA, Chris Groesbeck and his team came over and had a conversation about and what we were trying to accomplish and how it might look and feel as an operational facility once it was constructed. Then he went off and took many of those concepts and came back with the basic design. Then we had to flesh it out in great detail. This is where the collaboration comes in, he and others had to work very closely with the people who are going to use the space. Our first principle was that the users will define what they need and the architect will have to figure out the most efficient, effective and cost-contained way to accomplish those purposes.

What’s your favorite aspect of the Wabash Building?

That’s easy. Unquestionably, it’s the fact that we’re surrounded by students constantly. There’s no place you can go where there’s not an opportunity to interact with them and them with you. To really change the nature or the dynamics between people who are part of the university, that’s a great achievement. Clearly, that’s the best part, the human interaction piece.

What do you think is the student’s favorite aspect of the building?

Curiously, the students have given it a name, one that we did not create, they call it ‘The Wabash.’ That’s representative of the fact to me they really call this their home. I think that the aspect they like most is that they can have a seamless existence in the university. They can live, eat, recreate and go to classes all within the same facility. That creates a huge sense of community.

It’s that sense of the community that the Wabash represents to them. I think they find that to be the most gratifying aspect of the building experience.

What was the biggest surprise of the Wabash Building?

The biggest surprise for me was the impact of connecting passageways, of which there are four, between the Wabash Building and the Auditorium Theater Building–the historic building the university has owned for its whole existence essentially. Those pathways developed into new communities in locations which were not particularly enticing when that building was completely self-contained. In fact, one on the second floor, brought back to life and rejuvenated what had been in the ‘40s, ‘50s and 60s one of the primary places where students gathered and had stopped being used for essentially three or four decades. It came alive again because it’s right in the middle of the traffic corridor between these two buildings. I think that’s the biggest surprise, the reengineering, the re-signifying of the historic building.

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