A Portal to the Future

The Next Generation of Chicago-Style Innovation Is Coming to Illinois Tech

By Chelsea Kalberloh Jackson
A Portal to the Future
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel high-fives an IIT student at last summer’s press conference announcing the university’s proposed innovation facility.
Photo: Michael Goss

In July 2012, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel joined IIT President John Anderson in S. R. Crown Hall on the university’s Main Campus to announce IIT’s plans to construct, in the words of Anderson, “a portal to the future.” The first new academic building to be constructed on Main Campus in 40 years, it comes with an ambitious set of goals, including showcasing IIT’s distinctive education and nurturing the next generation of innovators and entrepreneurs.

IIT Magazine looks at the potential of this exciting new initiative.

Hub for Creativity

“It will be more than an academic building,” according to Anderson. “An important role of the facility will be to connect like-minded innovators, creative thinkers, and entrepreneurs in the IIT community to the best and the brightest talent in the city of Chicago. With its flexible and interactive workspaces, it will be the place where ideas are put forward that shake up the status quo and fundamentally change the way we live.”

Distinctive Education

IIT Institute of Design will have a strong presence in the facility—and the incorporation of its signature approach to design thinking will enhance the university’s distinctive undergraduate educational programs: the Interprofessional Projects (IPRO) Program, Idea Shop, Self Leadership Academy, and Entrepreneurship Academy.

Tool Box

Technology will play a major role in the creation and development of innovative projects. Computer labs and media stations will support the development of mobile apps, digital videos, interactive games, 3-D models, animation, and eBooks. A materials workshop and lab that include fabrication and rapid-prototyping equipment will facilitate the production of models in wood, metal, acrylics, and wax—and, in the electrical workshop, students can create circuitry and electronic components.

The Mix

With spaces dedicated to interdisciplinary work, “faculty, students, alumni, and entrepreneurs will gather together for the singular purpose of transitioning new ideas into processes and product designs that improve the quality of life,” Anderson says. “And what happens here will serve as a bridge between IIT’s classrooms and University Technology Park.”

Going Beyond

The opportunities that will come from this new initiative will not be limited to IIT students. Plans are for high school and middle school students, many of them from Chicago who attend summer programs at IIT—including those enrolled in the Exelon Summer Institute, Boeing Scholars Academy, Design Build Workshops, the Computer Discovery Camp for Middle School Girls, and the Academy for Future Leaders in Science and Technology—to have access to the space. These programs are preparing bright young men and women for study and professions in STEM fields, and also help show off IIT to prospective students.

An Investment in Chicago

The initiative is “essential to the city’s bottom line, which is making sure that everybody has a chance at a bright future,” Emanuel said at the announcement event. According to Emanuel, initiatives such as this new facility will help position Chicago to be the “digital startup city of the Midwest” and “ensure that tech employers and entrepreneurs have a steady workforce.”

A Building Unlike Any Other

Considering IIT’s renowned architecture legacy, the design of the building will likely draw significant attention. IIT is committed to ensuring that the center is architecturally distinctive in the tradition of bold structures for which the university and Chicago are well known.