Columbia College Media Production Center debuts today

February 5, 2010

Columbia College Media Production Center (photo by Lee Bey)
Columbia College Media Production Center (photo by Lee Bey)

Columbia College is an historically non-traditional arts college housed in series of‚  traditional-looking converted late 19th and early 20th century commercial buildings in the South Loop.

But suppose--just suppose--the 120-year-old college, whose graduates are an eclectic mix of artists, actors, journalists, dancers, filmmakers, music and television professionals, constructed a building of its own? What would that look like?

Many will find out today as the school and dignitaries cut the ribbon on the $21 million,Columbia College Media Production Center at 16th and State Street. It's first building the college has constructed.The 35,500 sq ft building combines the departments of Film & Video, Interactive Arts & Media and Television into state-of-the art shared and separate spaces that allow students across the disciplines to learn and interact.‚  Students are taught everything from set design and construction to‚  elaborate computer-animated motion capture. Classes officially began late last month.

Columbia College Vice President of Campus Environment Alicia Berg said media programs' need for clearer spans on sound stages, greater noise isolation and super-smooth floors for camera equipment made it nearly impossible to find and retrofit an existing building.

The Media Production Center is a nice piece of work by Jeanne Gang, of Chicago's Studio/Gang Architects,‚  that doesn't visually scream across the intersection, yet it will hardly be ignored.‚  The building's dark, glassy facade runs along State Street like an errant length of film.‚  Behind the wall, Gang put public spaces, informal student gathering spots and some glass space. Vast high-roof and windowless production spaces are secreted to the rear of the lot.

Also clever is how film and media are subtly‚  referenced in the design. The typeface of the‚  "COLUMBIA" sign on the facade was designed to resemble unspooled strips of film. Windows tints are reminiscent of the color gels over film lights.‚  The design on a panel above a gathering spot near the entrance is composed of old TV and film test patterns:

(photo by Lee Bey)
(photo by Lee Bey)

Student space in the lobby is marked by a 25ft tall terra cotta entry arch from the old Famous Players Lasky Corporation film exchange that once stood at 13th and Michigan. The Famous Players Lasky was a forerunner of Paramount Pictures; the building was part of Chicago's early 20th century Film Row. The building was designed by theater architects Rapp & Rapp.

(photo by Lee Bey)
(photo by Lee Bey)

Gang, the architect of‚  the beautiful and much talked about Aqua Tower at Randolph and Columbus, said a bench for students will be built in the arch's recess. "Maybe it'll be like they're on a throne," she laughed. Here's Gang with a detail from the arch:

(photo by Lee Bey)
(photo by Lee Bey)

Inside the building, Gang played with views and depth, as is the case below where a series of interior windows allow views from inside hallway to the outside:

(photo by Lee Bey)
(photo by Lee Bey)

There‚  is even a rooftop garden. Berg said the center was built in a year. The school even has a time lapse video of it on youtube: