G&R Custom Elevator Cabs New Construction Northwestern UniversityThe iconic 5-story music & communications building, recently named Bienen School of Music, at Northwestern University (NWU) provides classrooms, rehearsal studios, lounges, and three performance areas for nearly 600 students and 125 faculty. Scott Seyer, Principal Architect at Goettsch Partners (GP), provided design and project management services throughout this project completed in 2015.

G&R Custom Elevator Cabs was invited to partner with GP and Chicago elevator contractor, Professional Elevator Service (PES, who performed the elevator installation), to manufacture three (3) new elevator cabs (cab shell and interiors)–each a different size and thus, uniquely configured interior, in order to materialize the vision that GP Architect, Scott Seyer, had for these elevator cabs.

Seyer’s design vision of a “light, luminous wall” originally specified low-iron etched glass as the wall panel material was later ruled out by the project administrators in the planning phase because they anticipated high levels of instrument transport to and from the classrooms and performance areas, and there was great concern that the glass would break and be difficult to replace. Therefore, highly impact resistant, durable and price neutral products–that also demonstrated similar qualities of the original design vision were sourced, sampled, and chosen.

Kevin Harris, Senior Design Engineer at G&R, is familiar with complex projects like this one at NWU, as Kevin puts it “it’s the nature of the work we do at G&R.” Once a project arrives at G&R the architect has a preliminary idea of how the cab interior will look, however the architects’ vision cannot be completely solidified until G&R’s design engineering staff review the construction hoistway drawings, analyze the capability of the materials to perform the necessary function(s) in the given space, develop the cab shell and interior engineering drawings and assesses the manufacturability of the architects interior design. Kevin explains some of the challenges faced early in this project below:

“At the start of the Bienen project there was a lot of back and forth activity because the architect was rethinking materials for different finishes due to the fact that they wanted to avoid using real natural stone, wood or glass–in consideration of maintenance, durability, and the particular use of each particular space. We worked with the architect to source different materials, get samples and keep the project progressing. There were a lot of re-submittals, but together we worked it out.”

Common challenges in any elevator cab project involve material availability and subjective lead times, which are related to supply and demand. Lead times, of course, are established by the respective independent suppliers and materials that are generally more available are in more demand and thus more likely to be available in a shorter length of time. In this case, one of the selected materials, Prodema ProdIN, chosen for its high-impact resistance and natural-looking quality (despite it’s intended and typical application for humid conditions like pools, spa’s, saunas) is manufactured in Spain and took nearly 24-weeks to arrive after ordering (16-weeks to manufacture and 8-weeks for shipping). It does have a nice benefit besides the look­–it’s guaranteed to last for 20-years. In this particular case, NWU decided that the need to incorporate highly impact resistant material was more important than meeting a completion date, this undoubtedly led to higher satisfaction levels, peace of mind, and passenger comfort.

G&R Custom Elevator Cabs New Construction Northwestern University

The engineering design not only captured Seyer’s interior design likeness, but also tucked away unsightly electrical wiring, emergency exits, and ventilation slots, which are necessary to meet safety code requirements but not necessarily pleasing to look at. Incorporating all of these elements in a concealed manner can be difficult to do with very specific interior designs. Kevin said:

“GP had unique display ideas for the trim bars, reveals, and panel edges. The perimeter lighting is unusual because the LEDs are exposed and had to look clean–as it was intended, and still be accessible for maintenance. Since there were 3-cars involved in this project each cab had it’s own unique engineered configuration.”

Within all three cabs, the wall seams incorporate small recessed spaces to promote a sense of depth and centeredness while also frame the panels and angle-edge handrails with a shadow set off by ambient perimeter and downlighting. All three cabs are adorned with raised pin Braille characters on the COP Panels (as opposed to standard discs located next to the push buttons).


G&R Custom Elevator Cabs New Construction Northwestern University

Car #P1’s platform size is 84”x 74”, capacity is 3600-lbs., and the cab has two 18-inch COP panels. This cab features Prodema ProdIN on the rear wall and Lumicore on the sidewalls stacked in a horizontal position. The car doors open from the center to accommodate a larger flow of passengers entering and exiting the cab from common areas.

Car #P2 is smaller and located in a corridor with less foot traffic. Its platform size is 72”x81”, it’s capacity is 2100-lbs., and it has one COP panel. The walls feature only Prodema veneer panels in a stacked horizontal position, and the car door opens to the right.

Car #S1 serves a dual purpose as a service and passenger cab; it has a 6,000-lb. capacity and 78”x 124” platform size. It has two 12-inch COP panels giving passengers the ability to control their destination from either side of the cab–even in the presence of large instruments. The (shorter width) rear wall features Prodema ProdIN wall panels while the (longer length) sidewall panels feature Lumicor, all walls feature panels in a horizontally stacked position (like #P1 and #P2). An additional row of handrails positioned at a lower height in #S1 give the wall panels additional protection to head off potential damage from a rolling piano. The doors open from the center. Seyer said:

Before G&R was involved in the NWU project, G&R was selected to work with GP on a number of other projects, most recently providing 22-custom glass elevator cabs for the new 47-story glass-sheathed building at 150 North Riverside, Chicago. The oversized elevator cars feature color-changing lights behind the handrails and back-painted glass wall panels and ceilings.

Visit our project gallery to see photos of this project.