Aging Well at the Morton Arboretum

People / Places / May 11, 2015

A decade after the Morton Arboretum debuted in Lisle, Ill., architect Andy Tinucci took the opportunity to revisit his design.

“We went out and toasted its 10th-year anniversary,” the principal in Chicago-based Woodhouse Tinucci Architects says. “I was thinking about how well it’s aged – with the natural stone, wood and glass, it looked like a building that was built just one year prior.”

On its face, the architecture seems elemental, but Tinucci successfully wove together a number of functions for a highly successfully structure that’s all about its environment.

“It’s not a place to go into, but to launch you out – it’s a gateway to the outside,” he says. “The front door is not a front door, but a gateway to beyond. It dares you not to come inside at all.”

Even if you do, you’re still surrounded by trees, a lake and nature. A pair of pavilions, east and west, are split by a wide orientation hall that looks out to the exterior at the other end. The architects placed all public spaces – offices, retail, cafe, and meeting rooms – on the perimeter of the 47,000 square-foot structure, including a dining room with 100 linear feet of floor-to-ceiling glass.

“The building is oriented toward Meadow Lake to the east, so the dining room has a panoramic view of the lake,” he says. “Then there’s natural light to south, through deciduous trees beyond.”

The building replaced a smaller, 4,000 square foot structure from the 1970s; the architects salvaged and repurposed its limestone walls. “We cleaned it all, palletized it and reused it on the new entry walkway, for a large meandering wall leading to the building,” he says

Tinucci credits his client – a non-profit tasked with expanding the arboretum’s visitor base from 200,000 to 800,000 people annually – with maintaining his building well.

“They’re being good stewards of the material,” he says. “If you can detail a building so that it survives Chicago’s weather, and build something that the client truly values, it’s going to work for a really long time.”

And look good all the while.

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Mike Welton

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