Iconic Chicago-area office park is at the center of redevelopment fight

The Baxter International campus could remain a shining example of mid-century modern architecture, or it could become largely a nondescript logistics terminal.

That’s the choice civic officials in the northwest Chicago suburb of Deerfield will have if they approve a redevelopment plan for the nine-building, 1970s-era campus that conservation groups and even lawmakers are fighting. local citizens.

There are several reasons why the office campus, which has housed the Baxter medical instrument company, should be saved, conservationists say.

One is that the iconic Central Facilities Building, which houses a 700-seat cafeteria, was one of the first buildings in the world to have a cable-stayed roof.

“This unique design allows the floor plates to remain largely column-free, creating a very graceful and delicate structure,” said Richard Tomlinson II, retired partner at world-renowned architecture firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM), and one of the people who worked on campus, he told the Daily Commercial News.

Another is the architectural provenance.

The building was the “precursor” to the McCormick Place expo center in downtown Chicago, “which is actually slightly simplified from what was designed at Baxter,” he said.

Added gradually in the 1980s, the business park was also designed by architects including names like Bruce Graham and Fazlur Khan, who designed other iconic SOM buildings, Chicago’s Hancock Tower and Willis (formerly Sears) Tower. .

Tomlinson said the team believed in “pushing the limits” through innovation. When it came to the business park, this meant creating a “dynamic campus” where flexibility was the rule.

“It could expand to accommodate long-term growth or hire by subleasing buildings if necessary,” he said.

In addition to the central facilities building, there are five office buildings about four or five stories high and three parking lots.

The design was ahead of its time.

It took a “sustainable” approach to land use “uncharacteristic of its time,” Tomlinson said. “He strategically incorporated structured parking in the vicinity of each office module to avoid large tracts of surface parking and preserve the surrounding landscape.”

David Fleener, a Chicago-area architect who is testifying against the redevelopment, said the campus is ideally designed to be “repurposed for many other uses,” such as a community college, health center or library.

“But tearing it down and building a windowless concrete distribution center that in five years could be useless, could not be reused for anything except a prison or an armory,” he said.

Baxter does not comment on the plan.

The company wants to sell the site because it has severely degraded its workforce on campus. The site was built to accommodate up to 2,000 people, but around 200 now work there.

The developer is Bridge Industrial, which builds large suburban logistics terminals. Deerfield Township would first have to annex the 100+ acre property and then approve the redevelopment plan.

But it’s not just conservationists who want to save the campus.

Local residents are against redevelopment due to the large number of noise and traffic problems that a warehouse would cause.

“The main opposition is residential neighbors who don’t want a distribution center with 600 to 1,000 trucks passing through their streets every day,” said Fleener, a board member of the DOCOMOMO-Chicago modernist preservation group.

Fleener himself worked at SOM on part of the campus expansion.

“We added a wing to the executive pavilion and added another garage,” he said.

Fleener said there have been hits and misses in preserving Chicagoland’s many mid-century office parks.

New Jersey-based Somerset Development bought the former 1.6 million-square-foot AT&T campus in 2019, with plans for a “metroburb,” a sort of all-inclusive live-work environment, which has now become partly repurposed with new commercial tenants. .

“The same company bought two or three Bell Lab buildings in the New York area and is doing the same thing there,” Fleener said. “So it’s possible to do this.”

The site was recently included on Landmarks Illinois’ 2023 Most Endangered Historic Places list.

Another campus, the Scott Foresman headquarters in Glenview, Illinois, designed by Perkins & Will in 1966, made the group’s 2021 list. It is now being redeveloped in a residential neighborhood.

Ace Hardware moved into McDonald’s former 80-acre Oak Brook campus once the fast food company moved to downtown Chicago.

But Allstate Insurance sold its 3.2 million-square-foot campus, also in Glenview, which was demolished.