The Northeastern Illinois University (NEIU) El Centro intends to inspire minority students, most of which
will become the first in their family’s history to attain higher education. The main objective for this
project was to create a building that would become a beacon for the community and inspire students
from various ethnic backgrounds. It aspires to break down the emotional and psychological barriers of
walking into a college building to provide a sense of belonging, create a sense of place, and make
students, faculty, and the community feel welcomed.
El Centro is the first component in a satellite campus master plan envisioned by NEIU to provide
educational, career and cultural opportunities the northwest communities of Chicago. The El Centro
campus seeks to revitalize the swath of industrial land bordered by Kimball Avenue, the Union
Pacific/Northwest Metra line, and the 90/94 expressway, while serving as a catalyst for further
development in the area. These key components of community and infrastructure will support the
campus and surrounding area to become more business, pedestrian, and bicycle friendly.
The building’s location on a site bordering the expressway offers an opportunity for NEIU to use the
architecture as a valuable marketing tool. Unlike a billboard, the architecture asserts its presence
through twisting roof forms and the bold NEIU school colors prominent on the vertical louvers
rhythmically arrayed along the building’s facades. The facade projects the strong impression of NEIU
as a role model in the community of higher education with a commitment to excellence, access to
opportunity, and diversity.
The building’s sculptural form and vibrant facade are layered with exterior vertical louvers and
fully-glazed single-loaded corridors to create an efficient sun-shading and acoustic-buffering barrier,
protecting students from intense western sunlight and roar of rush hour traffic. The solid portion at the
base of the building houses NEIU’s art collection in a linear gallery which connects the expansive,
doubleheight multi-purpose/lobby area with the student resource center at the opposite end. From
there the building rises along with tiered theater style seating which define the space and connect it to
the stacked classrooms on the second and third floors. The building culminates at the student lounge
where the ceiling sweeps upward, framing views to theChicago skyline and a lush green terrace
The NEIU El Centro Campus is a project completely engrossed in and belonging to its location and
community and reinforces Chicago’s identity as a city rich in educational and architectural cultures.