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Columbia College Chicago
About the Project
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About the Project

618 South Michigan Avenue Façade

Building History

The building at 618 S. Michigan Avenue was designed in 1913 by architect William Carbys Zimmerman.  It featured a grid-like façade, with large windows and minimal masonry surfaces (which you can still see a glimpse of behind the new glass façade.)  Then known as the Arcade Building, it housed specialty shops, photographers, publishers, a teachers college and the American Red Cross.

In 1958, the original terra cotta façade was removed and replaced with a modern curtain wall system as part of a modernization project done by the architectural firm McClurg Shoemaker McClurg for IBM, the building owner at the time.

When Columbia College Chicago purchased the building in 2006, global architecture, design, planning and consulting firm Gensler designed an interior renovation of the 10-story building for the college to use for classrooms, offices, a gallery, study collections, an event space and a learning center.  The project also included exposing the building’s first floor to Michigan Avenue with display windows that showcase the work of the College’s Fashion Studies students.


Solution to an Aging Problem

In 2010, the City of Chicago determined that the 1950s-era curtain wall had to be replaced for safety reasons.  Columbia also saw this as an opportunity to replace the façade with contemporary energy efficient glass consistent with the College’s commitment to environmental sustainability. 

Because the building is located in the Historic Michigan Boulevard Chicago Landmark District, the design of the new facade had to meet the approval of the Commission on Chicago Landmarks.  Columbia explored many façade replacement options, including replicating the original terra cotta; however, costs associated with that approach far exceeded what the college could afford.

Instead, Columbia with the design leadership of Gensler created this revolutionary solution which turned a mandatory maintenance project into an artistic endeavor.

A further benefit? The new façade was built for approximately 1/4 of the cost of replacing the terra cotta.


618 S Michigan in 1913


618 S Michigan in 1960


618 S Michigan in 2012