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Beaux Arts Beauty

Hospitality and healthcare have always been intertwined—now more so than ever—as both industries exist to serve and care for others. The Hyatt Place and Hyatt House Chicago Medical/University District opened this summer in the Beaux-Arts classical-style landmark that was formerly the site of the Cook County Hospital.

The 342,000-sq.-ft. adaptive-reuse project is part of a $150-million multiphase plan spearheaded by Murphy Development and SOM, in a design-build collaboration with Walsh Construction, Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates Inc., and KOO. The hotels are operated by Aimbridge Hospitality.

With roots dating back to 1857, the 210-key dual-branded property draws its inspiration from the building’s history. The hospital turned hotel is now both an official Chicago landmark, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

“The design marries the Beaux-Arts details of the building architecture with comfortable contemporary pieces that embrace its exciting new repurposed future—the respectful juxtaposition of historic details with modern amenities,” said Jackie Koo, founder of KOO LLC.

“The design was based on the connection of the root of the words hospital and hospitality being ‘Hosp,’ meaning ‘to host.’ The design pivots from the sterile to one that brings comfort, is a place to open up, connect, relax, and share stories which is what we tried to reflect in the public spaces,” Koo said. “The spaces are large, with high ceilings, so we have many areas of lounge seating, nooks, communal tables and we added a fireplace in the bar. The literal opening up of the formerly filled-in atrium was a big design driver for us. The double-height space inspired us to create a design that highlights and pays homage to the newly connected space.”

Koo noted that the project was a semi-prototypical renovation, meaning the public spaces were able to be custom, while the dual -branded guestrooms are a mix of the prototypical Hyatt House and Hyatt Place brand design. “Although in a building like this, no two guestrooms are alike or really prototypical,” she said.

Both the exterior and the interior of the building had suffered from deterioration due to deferred maintenance and exposure to the elements upon closing. Restoration included the original Beaux-Arts masonry detailing and terracotta ornamentation of the exterior; the wood-framed windows; interior decorative plaster work; the double-height main lobby and 106-year old restored marble stone staircase; elevator cores; as well as the double loaded corridor and terrazzo flooring of the interior. The team also spent more than $18 million to replace all windows and 4,160 terra cotta pieces on the exterior, made of granite, brick and limestone.

The interior of the building was completely gutted except for the old surgical theaters on the eighth floor, first used by Rush Medical School when the hospital opened in 1857. “One intriguing challenge was finding an inspired way to restore, celebrate and incorporate some of the building’s eccentricities,” Koo said, pointing to operating theater seating alcoves which became two eighth-floor guestrooms, “in which we created custom murals for, making them feel like large windows with views.”

“Since this was a historic preservation project, many of the plaster details on the interior and terra cotta details on the exterior were restored,” Koo said. “The continuous oversized hallways were maintained for historic preservation reasons as well. We pay homage to the beautifully restored architectural details, with custom area rugs designed to incorporate architectural ornamental elements from the historic building’s facade including egg and dart frieze motifs, lion heads and cherubs, and leaves and pomegranates. Even the Hygeia symbol, a snake twined around a chalice, representing the Greek goddess of health and hygiene, has been woven into the pattern of these custom antique rugs and pays homage to the building’s history as a hospital.”

The second floor offers a 300-ft. long, 11-ft.-wide corridor with barrel-vaulted ceilings and original plaster ornamentation juxtaposed by mid-century modern chandeliers. Custom rug runners span the length, leaving an accent border of the restored original terrazzo.

“We also added a fireplace in the hotel bar, crafted out of the same historic valley grey marble as the original grand staircase, a marble protected for historic renovations due to limited quantities in the quarries today,” Koo said. “It is one of two historic marbles used in the design. The other, Vermont Verde, greets guests at the reception desk in a leathered finish. Beautiful marbles such as these are only permitted for use in historic preservation due to the closing of many quarries limiting their current day supply.”

Overall, Koo said, “The space is inviting and grand at the same time. The hotel provides a unique experience of staying in a beautifully restored piece of Chicago history, with the convenience of modern-day comforts and amenities. The corridors exude a gallery-like sense of serenity, with white walls and large wrapped canvases lit by art lamps. So many people that we have met along the way have a connection with this building in some form and we hope that the people who return here or visit for the first time will feel that sense of comfort during their stay.