Two years ago the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy laid out a new plan to increase the size of the school in order to meet the demand for data-driven, evidence-based public policy leaders across the globe. To accommodate the new students, faculty, and programs, the Harris School will break ground on their new facility this summer. The building will be ready for occupancy in time for the 2018-2019 academic year.

Named to honor the generous support of Dennis J. and Connie Keller, the new Keller Center will showcase Harris Public Policy's enduring commitment to intellectual openness, inclusivity and bold innovation. The Keller Center will also serve as one of the University of Chicagos anchors on the south side of campus, connecting us to the neighboring communities.

The Design Plan

The Keller Center will restore and reimagine a 20th-century masterpiece by Edward Durrell Stone located at 1307 East 60th Street. The building is an example of the post modern style of 1960s architecture, characterized by its concrete pillars and horizontal rather than vertical use of space. A sensitive transformation of the exterior façade will retain Stone’s signature design—slender encircling columns, projecting perforated canopy and limestone façade with decorative tracery. The monumental plinth will be modified to better connect the Keller Center to nearby academic facilities and to provide full accessibility. New glass insertions will replace the limestone façade at key entry points, allowing natural light into the building and providing a welcoming entrance.


Dear Harris School Community,

Starting with the 2018-19 academic year, the Harris School of Public Policy will be housed in the Keller Center– a dramatic adaptive reuse of the New Graduate Residence Hall, originally designed by renowned 20th Century architect Edward Durrell Stone. The Keller Center will provide Harris with its first permanent home, of a quality commensurate with Harris’ global standing and large enough to accommodate a near doubling in size in the years to come. As the architect for the renovation, I want to brief you on the essentials and highlights of the Keller Center design.

First, the building will showcase the work done by the Harris School. The signature space in the building is the Harris Forum: a sun-streaked, four-level atrium carved out of the existing building structure, wrapped by glass-walled classrooms and team rooms. The rigorous approach to public policy practiced at Harris will be on full display! A time lapse of a typical day at Harris would show a buzz of hundreds of students, faculty, and staff mixing, working, and connecting both in and around the Forum. The Forum will be the heart of Harris– home to daily collaborative problem solving and dialogue as well as world-class speakers and events.

Second, by serving the distinct needs of students, faculty, staff, and alumni, the Keller Center will attain a critical mass of activity. We responded to students who wanted a menu of dynamic spaces to engage in the rigorous work required for positive global change. We responded to faculty and researchers who said they needed ‘heads down’ time by designating most of the second and third floors as quiet zones for faculty offices and centers, including The Pearson Institute for the Study and Resolution of Global Conflicts. We responded to alumni’s desire to have a lifelong relationship with Harris by providing the new rooftop Executive Education Suite to support specialized training for alumni and executive level professionals.

Lastly, inspired by the Harris School ethos of positive social change, the building design is filled with policy-inspired design firsts.

The Keller Center has been designed to be the most sustainable building on the University of Chicago Campus, the most sustainable top-10 policy school, and one of the most sustainable buildings in all of higher education.

The Keller Center will achieve an impressive Platinum certification under the LEED building standard, its highest level. To use 35.9% less energy than permitted by code, the building employs a full menu of energy efficiency strategies including daylighting, LED lights, and radiant heating and cooling. On day one, 9% of the total building’s energy will be provided by grant-funded rooftop photovoltaic panels, a system planned to expand to provide nearly 18.5% of building energy needs as funding becomes available. Additionally, rainwater captured on the roof will be stored and used to flush toilets as well as for landscape irrigation. This has the dual benefit of reducing burdens on the City’s combined sewer system, while saving 525,208 gallons of fresh water per year.

The Keller Center will also attain Petal Recognition in the cutting-edge and rigorous Living Building Challenge (LBC), and will be among the first major building projects in higher education to do so. As part of this pursuit, one manufacturer discovered its product unintentionally contained a material prohibited by the LBC (highly toxic halogenated flame retardants). The manufacturer is now working with its supply chain to eliminate this component from all related products, and in turn make cleaner products available for all future buildings. The Keller Center project can proudly take credit for leveraging its purchasing power to exert influence in this weakly-regulated area of U.S. policy. This is a big deal, and only one example of how the process of material vetting is reshaping the building and construction industry!

I would like to mention one last innovation. We have solved the problem of having to wait in line to access a men’s or women’s restroom in a uniquely Chicago-School, free-market way: one of the restrooms at the Keller Center will feature gender-neutral stalls– small rooms with full privacy, available to the next person regardless of gender. And applying a little Chicago-style nudge, the gender-neutral hand wash stations will be centrally located to ensure efficient access and to promote hand washing. 

By working closely with the Harris community, we have met our goal to design a facility uniquely suited to the work and culture of the Harris School. While the project is under construction, please click here to view a slide show of the design. We look forward to seeing you at the grand opening in September 2018!


Douglas Farr, FAIA, LEED AP

President, Farr Associates