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Northwestern celebrates opening of modern residence hall

EVANSTON - Northwestern University celebrated the opening of its modern residence hall this fall featuring gorgeous views of the lakefront, kitchens on each floor, two-story lounges and special spaces designed to create community for students to study, take classes and socialize in comfort.

President Morton Schapiro, University trustees, dignitaries and students gathered for a festive ribbon cutting ceremony Sept. 29 to celebrate and marvel at the features of the new residence facility at 560 Lincoln St. that showcases the future of student living at Northwestern.

Many amenities seemed more suitable for a real estate brochure than a college house, and that’s the idea — creating lounge areas to encourage students to gather and mingle, offering stunning views of the lake or the Chicago skyline and providing spaces that make it feel more like a home away from home where they would want to live.

There are 422 beds in the new facility that opened for students this fall at the north end of the Evanston campus. It boasts 140,000 square feet of living space, laundry rooms scattered throughout, a “piano room,” new classrooms, a game room, “open study” and “quiet study” rooms and a neighborhood desk in a welcoming reception area with a separate mailroom at the entrance. 

And it’s just the beginning, as Northwestern’s Student Affairs planners set their sights on building more such spaces in the coming years, remodeling older facilities and creating a campus where these houses help foster smaller, tighter neighborhoods of diverse students pulled closer into community with one another. 

“I hope you love it as much as I do,” exclaimed Patricia Telles-Irvin, vice president for student affairs. Greeting about 250 dignitaries and guests gathered for the formal opening and ribbon cutting event, she reminded them of the old line of aging student houses, known as “Peanut Row,” that the new building replaced.

“Those didn’t even come close to this,” she said. “Our students are just so happy with the new facility. … We had not built a new residence hall since 2002, and this is one of three new ones we are planning in the next 10 years. We believe it’s going to make a real difference in the lives of our students.”

After Telles-Irvin thanked an array of trustees, administrators, student affairs staff, contractors and architects for all the work that went into planning and completing the building, President Schapiro gave Telles-Irvin a special tribute of his own.

“Now we have the Ritz-Carlton of dorms,” the President said admiringly, and he quoted something Telles-Irvin had told him six years ago, noting, “She said, ‘Students act the way you treat them. They tend to treat things with respect when they are respected.’ 

“You’re the greatest,” he declared, smiling broadly at Telles-Irvin. “None of this would have happened without you. It’s a joy to work with you. You’re a visionary. … This is just a jewel in your crown, and it’s just the beginning.” 

In keeping with the superlatives that marked the ribbon-cutting ceremony, Gordon Segal, chair of the Educational Properties Committee of the Northwestern Board of Trustees and a key leader for all the building on campus, followed the president to the stage and quipped, “The Ritz-Carlton doesn’t do it justice; I’m thinking the Hotel de Crillon (a famed luxurious hotel in Paris).

“The building is much better than any of us who were on the committee could have imagined,” Segal said. “And we are going to update a lot of other dorms that need it. …You’re just going to love it and want to go back to school.” 

Northwestern students agree. Danielle Hojnicki, president of the University’s Residence Hall Association, also spoke at the event and called the new 560 Lincoln St. building “a special place. It will serve as a home away from home for generations to come.”

Hojnicki said that living on Northwestern’s campus brought her a first taste of adulthood her first year, and she grew to love the University as “a place to grow and thrive. … A home can be found in community. A home can be found in passions. A home can be found in other people. To me, living on campus is my home.”

Also on hand for the ribbon cutting was Erik Tellander, senior associate with William Rawn Associates, Architects, Inc., of Boston, whose firm designed the building. 

“We try to create the spaces that foster home and foster dialogue,” he said. “We kind of like the literal bumping into each other and rubbing of shoulders — the sort of wonderful experience of being an undergrad. But how does that actually happen, and how do Northwestern students do that today? How will they do it in five years? 

“We tried to create spaces that foster the community building that can happen organically in the right place,” Tellander added. He also cited appealing accents of the building, like the multiple roofs that give it a homey feel and help it fit into the roof-scape on campus.

“We have a great view from our lounge,” said Charlotte Tauss, 18, a first-year student in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, who is living in the new building and loving it. “That was the thing that hit me first — just the view of Lake Michigan. It’s a really nice spot. We’ll study or read together up there, or just watch TV. It’s nice to be able to look out the window and see such beautiful scenery.”

Over the next 10 years, Northwestern has plans to improve vital campus spaces for students and contribute to a stronger Northwestern experience.

The University is focused on improving the student residential experience through a combination of renovation and new construction projects that will reposition housing offerings to meet student market demand and increase on-campus undergraduate capacity.