Evanston’s Preservation Commission voted unanimously Tuesday night to deny a certificate of appropriateness for Northwestern University’s proposed new visitors center on Sheridan Road.

The proposal next goes to the City Council at its meeting Monday night, where aldermen could overrule the preservation group and approve the university’s plan.

Above: A rendering showing the planned visitor center in the lower left, just east of the red brick Fisk Hall. The rendering also shows the new music school complex now under construction. The music school plan calls for demolishing part of the existing parking deck to create an improved view of the lake. The lost parking would be replaced with a garage in the new visitor center structure. Below: A recent aerial view of the same area from Google Maps.

Bonnie Humphrey, the university’s director of design and construction, told the commission the new building continues the limestone and glass contemporary architectural style of recent buildings on the campus — which she said includes an ensemble of architectural styles representing the university’s 160-year history.

Bonnie Humphrey, NU’s director of design and construction.

Humphrey also noted that the university has received an array of preservation awards from the ciy in recent years for its restoration of older buildings on the campus.

She added that while the main university campus is treated as a landmark, it is not part of any city historic district.

In response to complaints from some neighbors about inclusion of garage parking for more than 400 cars in the project, she said that the city’s zoning requirements mandate providing extensive parking on the campus.

Architect Paul Janicki.

But local architect Paul Janicki complained that the new building “is basically snubbing its nose at” the nearby Fisk Hall, which was designed by noted architect and Evanston resident Daniel Burnham, because it uses different materials and window openings.

Humphrey replied that Fisk Hall is one of just three brick buildings on the campus and that in the overall design of the campus the proposed new building is a much better fit.

Preservation Commission member Jack Weiss.

Commissioner Jack Weiss said he was concerned about the scale of the building and the lack of a more substantial setback for it from Sheridan Road.

“We’re also concerned about the context of the building in the Evanston community,” Weiss said, “and this building represents a very different story about that context.”

A rendering of the planned 170,000 square-foot facility, designed by the Chicago architectural firm of Perkins+Will. It would include an auditorium with about 160 seats, meeting rooms, offices for admissions visitors staff and waiting areas for visitors as well as parking for 435 cars.

“If you simply moved the building” back onto the existing parking deck, “we’d be very pleased about the idea,” Weiss said.

But Humphrey said that would make it impossible to meet the parking needs — given the numerous performing arts venues in the Arts Circle section of the campus. Those now draw many residents from the area to evening performances who, she said, expect to have free parking nearby.

Related story

NU plans new visitors center, boathouse

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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  1. Build to match Fisk?

    The University is embracing the future and moving forward, limestone and glass, good for them.  The new proposals are a much better fit for the campus and do match what they have been building for decades now.  Very exciting projects, bravo NU.

    IMO it's actually Fisk Hall thats snubbing it's nose, demanding that anything around it must fit and accomodate it's old, dated profile.  Everything around Fisk is or will be new, maybe it's also time to just take down Fisk and be done with it.  That way nobody has to worry about matching it's old window openings.  

  2. Parking ramp

    435 cars? That's not a visitor center…its a visitor's parking garage! Shame on NU for proposing a building on such a small piece of land… between Sheriden Road and basically the shoreline. Do the right thing City Council and tell NU to go back to the drawing board.

  3. What a terrible place to park 435 cars

    Yes, Northwestern University does need to provide more parking – clearly.  But the enormous scale of this proposal because of the decision to park 435 cars in this prominent lakefront location is simply ludicrous.

    They have many other interior sites that they built on in the recent past without the required parking (saying that the large lot west of the stadium covers their parking requirement!) and they could have put parking in.

    But just NOW they decide they have to build a parking lot – right next to the lake – and then to blame the City.  Riduculous logic. Don't they do any long range planning over there?

    Mostly, I don't care what they do on their campus. But, evidently not doing any long range planning where they could have put this parking elsewhere then and then blaming the scale of this project on the City's zoning requirement for parking takes a lot of chutzpah! 

  4. Why do these jokers

    Why do these jokers get any say? Are these paid posts?

    Its NU's property and money being used, so unless NU is taking resources from the city, they should have no input.

  5. Clock Museum

    And did the Preservation committee approve the Dryvit design in a residential neighborhood for the Clock Museum?  Look back at the drawings…can you say eyesore?)

    Northwestern's campus is made up of a number of styles of buildings, and I think the green space beside the lake is far more appropriate than the parking lot that extends to the bike path.  I urge the council to let them build!


  6. This is a big, bulky building

    This is a big, bulky building / parking garage (90 feet tall) on what is a premier lakefront site adjacent to one of Evanston’s public beaches.  The site deserves a more suitable and architecturally significant building and as a gateway to Northwestern one would think the university would want this as well.

    The University planners and architects need to go back and reference the much celebrated Framework Plan from a few years ago that placed more suitably scaled academic buildings near this location and provided needed parking within the context of campus buildings and not visible from the Sheridan Road or the lakefront.

    I trust our Alderman will acknowledge and support the good work of the preservation commission in not approving this building.  

  7. New visitor center looks great

    I think this new Visitor center looks great (based strictly on the drawings above) and would be a great addition to the NU campus and Evanston.

    All I hope is that the University continues to wrap the bike/walking path around the lake and continue through Evanston's public parks and beachfront. 

  8. If the Mayor and NU President Schapiro are so close … ?

    Why is this massive building and proposal such a surprise to city officials?  Why weren't they looped into the planning process?  Where's the collaboration?

    1. Proposal is not new

      Plans for the building were announced back in February, as Evanston Now readers learned then.

      The project is just working its way through the approval process, and the Preservation Commission finally voted on it Tuesday night. While commission members are appointed by the mayor, she doesn't dictate their votes.

      — Bill

    2. Architecture Luddites strike again !

      Again those who want us to return to the 18th Century.  Anything old must be worshipped and never replaced or anything modern must not be built if it can be seen without a telescope from any 'old' building.

      No mystery why Evanston has so many financial problems and attracting new residents and business.

      1. Luddites?

        If we should throw all old stuff out, then why don't we dump the Constitution and all old laws, regulations, and just let the modern elite savants rule. 

        After all they KNOW what is best!

      2. It’s not because it’s modern

        It is not that this new building is "modern" in its design that caused the Preservation Board to object.   It's the SCALE of the building that they are opposed to.  It is unnecessarily enormous for that particular site – mostly because they are trying to hide a 435 car parking structure within the building envelope on a beautiful lakefront site.

        1. Scale, really?

          Scale? Really?  From the article Paul Janicki says he objects to the way the new building is "snubbing it's nose" at Fisk because it uses different materials and has different window openings than that old outdated and should be torn down Fisk building.  What does building materials and window openings have to do with scale?

          While Jack Weiss mentions scale he goes on about the "context of the building in the Evanston community" and how he personally doesn't think it fits his idea of that context.  Then goes on to say that if it were just moved back towards the lake a bit he would be happy happy.  Not that the scale is reduced, just move it back closer to the lake..  Nothing like consistency.

          From the drawings the building looks beautiful, achieves many things the building needs to achieve, and in no way diminishes anything about the lakefront, in fact, arguably improves that lakefront  A big improvment to the current ugly little parking deck that is currently there. 

          Hopefully the anti NU contingent and the we hate change contingent doesn't get to harrass NU over the well thought out building plans proposed for their property.

  9. Go NU!

    Of course you park cars in a PARKING GARAGE… !! Where else would you park your car? NU is assuming responsibility for employees/students/visitors by providing some parking spaces, would you rather they park in front of your house?

    NU is situated on the lake and that's where they need to build, or would you rather they buy up more real estate throughout Evanston?

  10. Let them build parking

    NU needs the parking and they need it near campus. Of course it's not all visitor parking. NU has wiped out loads of surface parking spaces up by the Allen Center as they've filled that space with buildings. It's this, or they no doubt buy more real estate off the tax rolls and build surface parking where we really don't want it. I say "let 'em build."

    1. Who should decide ?

      The appropriate people to decide if the Vistor's Center, parking or other things are to be built, are the students who pay for it in tutition, room/board and fees [money is fungible so it may appear to go for these but it also goes to buildings, etc.], alumni who donate and other gifters who have to decide if this is the best use of their money and college donations.

      Of course the administration and trustees propose but the money must be there.  If they propose and various doners fund it [instead of educational instruction] then that is their decision.  Of course the tax payers should not be on the hook for any of it—odds are the Council will try to make another one of their famous gifts though and that must be stopped as should all their other gifts.

      NU lets non-students on campus if they abide by laws and other policies, so they should be able to build what they want as long as it does not pollute, endanger aircraft, etc..   The Council should apply the same logic to what private homeowners and businesses propose.


    2. Where for NU parking?

      If people object to the proposed parking, how about reviving the plan that existed 15(?) years ago to build a multi-story parking structure in the existing lot at Maple and Foster/Emerson ?  The idea died somehow [two guesses and the first does not count].   A few years ago the Evanston Roundtable Traffic Guy said he'd heard the idea was being re-ccnsidered but sounds like nothing came of that.

      Maybe the city and NU need to look at that again if the 'preservationists' keep up their campaign. 

  11. Bravo Northwestern

    Big doesn't equal Bad. Sophistacted design usually represents progressive thinking and planning. It would be refreshing to finally have the City Council not pander to only a handfull (small) of very verbal, loud citizens that in no way represent the majority of residents who are thoughtful and appreciative of what having one of the nation's top Universities as our neighbor means to our quality of life as a City.

    Some of our knee-jerk oposers feel they have to safe guard the City from rolling over to any NW request. For those of us who are thoughtful observers of the University's requests to the City, we know that the experience has met nothing but careful scrutiny, probably more so than most other entities experience.

    Keep up the good work NU, know that you have many, many supporters.

    1. Preservation Committee and ‘Atlas Shrugged’

      When I read about this Preservation Committee [and the large number of other Evanston committees], it gives me an eerie and scary remembrance of the groups in ‘Atlas Shrugged’ who wanted to prevent new inventions that would prevent everyone from keeping their monopoly on old and out-of-date [and dangerous] products and procedures.  They wanted everyone to be able continue to make what they made—no winners just spread the business around. 

      In that case it was, mainly, technology.  Here in Evanston it is mainly any business that wants to start-up unless the various committees deem it a winner—in their terms.   Then they will fund it—until it becomes successful [if it does] and then regulate and harass it until it fails or moves out.

      PBS had a program years ago, I think called ‘American Game, Japanese Rules’ that among other cases of ‘everyone is/should be above average’, it told of Japanese baseball where if one team was too far ahead they had to pull their first string so they score would not be lop-sided—not wanting the other team to be embarrassed.  The old keep everyone happy.

      The Preservation Committee sounds like it is in the spirit if not the direct body that made Foster-
      Walker complex, among other buildings part of the ‘Historic District’ while if I recall correctly exempted the much more expensive housing north of Lincoln because those people protested—and of course supported with votes and money the Council.  NU on the other hand had to be punished—well for just being there and providing the largest number of jobs and being the attraction for people to want to live here.

      As long as groups like the Preservation Committee are given the power to make the kinds of decisions they make, businesses [and probably residents] will ‘pick-up their marbles’ and go elsewhere—as soon as they can afford to get someone to buy their houses/buildings and pay the high taxes and that taxes, crime and other things have decreased the value of their houses.  In ‘Atlas Shrugged’ the creative people just left and formed their own society.  They had to make a really big move—Evanstonians may only have to move a few miles to escape.

      Are NU grads going to want to stay in Evanston after seeing the petty city policies?

      1. Evanston and Ayn Rand

        Completely agree with you.

        Actually had a hard core liberal Evanstonian tell me that I'm only financially successful because I"m lucky.  IN her opinion, hard work, life long perserverence/focus, and intelligence were only secondary factors.  My success was really based on the fact that my parents were good people, which is just lucky.

        Barack Obama really summed up that menality well in his "you didn't build that business" one liner. 

        Anyone who has ever created a new idea or built a business would never call it luck.  And yes Mr. President, I did build it.  

        The government in Evanston stands in the way of innovation by continously subsidizing loser ideas that can not attain private funding like every other successful business owner.

        1. See what you think

          Read Outliers by Malcom Gladwell, and then see what you think about your success.

          1. Poppycock

            Interesting, some truth, but in no way conclusive.  Any entrepreneur will always tell you external factors play a roll, including a good dose of luck.  He came up with the somewhat arbitrary 10,000 hours devoted to a task as being the simple qualifier to success.

            I think the 10K hours concept is a pretty minimal amount that basically any successful entrepreneur would find out loud laughable, but therein does lie a basic tenant, even if one tries to minimize that important tenant.  At the most minimum and basic level it's an individual who must possess the committed drive, focus and effort to achieve success, even that minimal 10 thousand hours of effort and without that individuals committment there can never be any success, ever.  

            Obviously outside influences play a part, but success is driven by the individual, no matter the individuals background, therefore it is the individuals success.  Govt. didn't provide it, you didn't provide it, I didn't provide it,  the specific individual made it happen.  I think the book strives to diminish the value of an individual's committment and efforts and therefore amounts to pop theorem with an agenda.

  12. Do they really need to build on the beach?

    The university's desire to build this edifice is twofold. NU wants to have a trophy building where prospective students and their parents come to be impressed. I'm respect that. College is big business and NU is competing for the best and the brightest.  But they also need parking, for students, visitors, concert and beach goers. I respect that too. Look at the rendering folks… do they really need to build, literally on the beach? They don't want to build on the existing parking lot because they are keeping that open space for later development. According to the article, Mr. Weiss states, "If you simply moved the building back onto the existing parking deck, "we'd be very pleased about the idea." My sentiment exactly…

    1. A little history

      I'm guessing you weren't around back in 1964. Back then, the area in question was under water. The present beach is man-made, along with the rest of the NU Lakefill. And, after this new visitor's center is built, if there's not enough beach, they can make more. 🙂



  13. Amazing

    Are you serious, this Preservation Commission is ridiculous. 

    "Snubbing the nose, set it back and WE'D be pleased…, context in the community…" 

    These are all just opinions. 

    And opinions from snobs.

    Certificate of Appropriateness? What the hell is that?  This is a Visitor's Center!

    Worry about Evanston, not Northwestern. 

    I think the University is well equiped ot manage it's own affairs and the City Council would be fools to not approve this project despite the Preservation Commission's recommendation.

    And you wonder why NU and the City are on such contentious terms.  I wonder what it is like in Iowa City, Lawrence, KS, Ann Arbor…..?

  14. Atlas Shrug?

    Last time I looked at the map, NU was in Evanston and not vice versa. I don’t understand why both side’s commentaries have to be so polarizing. Too quickly people are attacking the preservation groups. As intrusive as their decisions might first appear, it’s thanks to individuals in these groups and their persevering efforts that we have some balance and places like Evanston. These groups are not anti-establishment or anti-progress, but for preserving the environments that attract people to places like Evanston in the first place. Ok, so NU needs more parking and should get it. There just might be better alternatives.

    Without getting into the merits of the design, everyone should take another look at the project and consider the planned scale, placement and its impact on the experience of the lakefront. Evanston and NU take an example from the founding fathers of your neighbor Chicago to keep the lakefront unobstructed for all to enjoy. Though the structure is on NU property, it will affect everyone’s experience of lakefront in Evanston.

    It would be best if everyone sat down again and reached a compromise. Both sides have rights.

    Isn’t Atlas Shrug a book that Walker quoted from? How about some reason. Do the right thing, and not make it about the people vs. establishment. As a primary citizen of Evanston, NU should exemplify stewardship in this matter.

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