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Design

Can Artist Theaster Gates Help Bridge a Town-Gown Divide?

A school at the University of Chicago is opening itself up to the South Side through public policy and architecture, with help from Theaster Gates.
Much of the Keller Center's limestone façade was replaced with glass in the renovation, making it visually more accessible.
Much of the Keller Center's limestone façade was replaced with glass in the renovation, making it visually more accessible.Courtesy of University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy

The newly renovated Keller Center, home to the University of Chicago’s Harris School of Public Policy on Chicago’s South Side, is crafted from a 1963 building designed by the architect of New York’s Radio City Music Hall and D.C.’s Kennedy Center, Edward Durell Stone. On the outside is a colonnade of delicate columns etched with a hexagonal motif. Stone’s original interior sported wood paneling, pea-green paint, and purple carpet—the sort of swinging-’60s vibe where you’d expect to be greeted by a door person dispensing cigarette holders.

Now, there are burly concrete slabs and columns, and a monumental staircase sheathed in black steel, surrounded by break-out spaces, glass-walled classrooms and meeting rooms, and open-office workstations. It could be a coworking space, or tech office, or a library lounge—it’s largely a neutral container.