The Building



Reflections of the Past in a Vision for Tomorrow

National Museum of Health and Medicine Chicago will take advantage of 21st century technology to create a museum experience unlike that of any other museum in the world.

NMHM Chicago represents the synergistic convergence of efforts to advance the state-of-the-art in several areas: education, museum design, information science, community outreach, and architecture. Though sited in Chicago's Loop, this will be a museum "without walls," projecting its influence across the nation and providing a rich immersive information experience to users no matter where they are.

The museum, with the help of the Buonacorsi Foundation, is currently undertaking efforts to raise sufficient funding to complete the creation of the museum and to set it on a course leading to financial self sustainability.


The Museum Living as an Organism

With an eye toward a sustainable renovation, NMHM Chicago acquired an existing building in downtown Chicago to house the new museum. Built in 1933, the three-story, 25,000 square foot masonry structure would undergo a dramatic, cutting-edge transformation led by Chicago-based design firm Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture.

Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture envisions a new kind of museum that is itself a living organism: both in keeping with the museum's theme and content, as well as being a high performance building that will actually generate its own sustainable energy.

As visitors engage with interactive exhibits throughout the museum, they will be able to individually generate energy that will power the building - mirroring the activities of nutrients within the human body. There, developing energy technologies - such as a heel-strike system which harvests force produced by foot traffic - will be visually represented on both interior surfaces and the building envelope, showing visitors the "real-time" display of their energy generation. When the museum is lightly populated it will exude a quiet energy; at peak times it will visibly flicker and pulse from the physical presence of its occupants. The building's facade will also incorporate a new high-tech "wrapper" that projects imagery relating to the museum and its programming. This dynamic exterior will intrigue visitors and engage in an architectural dialogue with the Pritzker Pavilion bandshell to the east on Washington Street.


Flexible, Customized, Evolving Learning Experience

The exhibits themselves will take full advantage of the dynamic configurability of the museum's architecture and state of the art systems.

As visitors enter the exhibit space, they can check out headphones with the integrated RFID chips and make a selection from a variety of virtual exhibits. As they move through the space, their presence will be detected and tracked, sending a signal to the display surfaces to configure to the specific content selected by the user. This will allow two visitors walking through the museum just moments apart to see completely different exhibits in the same locations throughout the building.

By utilizing the cutting-edge display technology, evan a small institution can draw from a potentially limitless digital archive of content to provide a total exhibit capacity that can far exceed even the largest conventional museums. This approach can leverage NMHM Chicago's collections in unprecedented ways.

These installations could complement exhibits of other similar objects, or be placed with real-time programming addressing global initiatives to promote the neurosciences.

The museum will also be equipped with a variety of cutting-edge experiential technologies, including spatial audio sound diffusion systems and variable pixel pitch systems to create high, low and zero pixillation imagery at different viewing locations. This will allow the exploration of entirely new ways to present information to visitors.


Fluid, Sculptural, and Dynamic Spaces

NMHM Chicago will take advantage of the most advanced technologies to create a museum experience that is completely flexible. Nearly every interior surface of the building will be able to display visual and audio data, allowing visitors to view individually customized exhibit content as they move throughout the building. This dynamic configurability will result in an unprecedented museum experience.

The exhibit and circulation spaces in the building will have a playful, fluid, sculpted, organic character, with walls, floors and ceilings flowing into one another seamlessly. "Plug-and-Play" technology will be integrated into many of these surfaces, allowing display modules to rise from the floor or hang from the ceiling. These modules can display actual artifacts with complex digital overlays and will act as portals into the museum's virtual spaces.

Outside of the primary exhibit space, the building will feature a 300-seat auditorium that will allow still and video images to be projected on its walls, ceiling and floor. A virtual reality chamber will allow visitors and researchers alike to interact with digital versions of biological specimens from the collections. Viewers could see digital representation of brain activity or other organic functions as transmitted by sensors from a living subject.


A High-Performance Sustainable Solution

The project will be an example of green retrofits of existing buildings-- a specialty of AS+GG, which is currently involved in a similar undertaking at Chicago's Willis Tower, formerly known as the Sears Tower. When completed, NMHM Chicago will be a state-of-the-art sustainable facility that takes full advantage of cutting-edge systems and strategies for maximum energy performance.

The foundation of NMHM Chicago's green agenda is the adaptive re-use of the original building, a key principle of sustainable construction. The Washington Street façade, which will be visible through the translucent wrapper, will be refreshed by replacing missing portions and extending around to the east side, which is not currently exposed to public view.

AS+GG will also investigate introducing natural daylight through the east and west outer walls of the building to illuminate the interiors, thereby reducing the need for artificial lighting.

Inside, the building's original mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems will be updated to be sustainable and energy efficient. New features - including a green roof, energy-efficient elevators, and high-performance lighting and glazing - will be added to significantly reduce energy use and the building's carbon footprint.

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Location of Building: 175 W. Washington Street 

Original Name of Building:  Chicago Federation of Musicians

Date of original construction:  1933

Architect:  N. Max Dunning

Chicago Historic Resources Survey Classification: “Orange” (property possesses potentially significant architectural or historical features[3])



The West Loop - LaSalle Street Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on June 1, 2013.  The West Loop - LaSalle Street Historic District is located at the west side of Chicago’s downtown Loop, which is at the heart of Chicago’s central business district. The Loop was named for the elevated train track system that encircles the central portion of Chicago’s downtown before radiating out to other areas of the city. The district setting is intensely urban, located at the center of one of the largest cities in the U.S. The district extends from the LaSalle Street Bridge over the north branch of the Chicago River, south to the Board of Trade Building at the foot of LaSalle Street. The district is characterized by the canyon effect created along LaSalle Street by massive buildings built up to the sidewalk and maintaining a continuous facade line along the length of the street. This facade line is broken by new construction in limited locations at the north end of the district. However, the vista from the LaSalle Street Bridge is absolutely intact and is nicely framed by Classical and Art Deco styled buildings.



This three-story building fronts on Washington Street and shares a party wall with the adjacent high rise to the west. The first floor is clad in polished granite and consists of a bronze-framed entrance at the east end and an angled, recessed storefront occupying the remainder of the facade. Above the first floor, the facade is clad in limestone and is detailed in low relief with multi-story, fluted pilasters and other sculptural elements. The tall second floor features large window openings of multiple lights and topped with cast metal panels ornamented in low relief depictions of musicians and instruments.  

The building was built for the Chicago Federation of Musicians, a trade union representing musicians. The building was planned to house union offices as well as musician practice rooms and an auditorium for performances. Retail space on the first floor was intended to help financially support the building. Throughout its history, regular union meetings were held within the building. The Chicago Federation of Musicians continued to maintain offices here until about 2004 when the organization moved to new offices on West Randolph Street. The building exterior remains largely as it appeared after the third story addition was completed in 1949 and retains a high degree of integrity.[1][2]


Text taken from:

[1]National Park Service / National Register of Historic Places Registration Form, NPS Form 10-900 OMB No. 1024-0018 (Expires 5/31/2012)