The most beautiful new building this year is a factory in Hoffman Estates – Consumer News

on Sep29

29 September 2017 | 10:30 am

The most beautiful new building in the Chicago area this year is a factory in Hoffman Estates.

The Trumpf Smart Factory sits along side the tollway in the southeast corner of the old Ameritech office campus. The $30 million project, designed by the architecture firm Barkow Leibinger, which has offices in Berlin and New York City, is an unusual hybrid. “It’s a factory and a showroom,” says Frank Barkow. “It’s about physically connecting the machines and clients coming here to discuss possibilities.”

While not well known in Chicago, the design firm has a deep portfolio of industrial design work in Europe and their ideas about affordable high-rise housing are currently on display in the Chicago Architecture Biennial at the Cultural Center.

The German machine tool and laser manufacturer, Trumpf, which has long specialized in sheet metal fabrication, is a family-owned company, and the partners of Barkow Liebinger are, in fact, members of the family.

Trumpf’s American headquarters are in Farmington, Conn., where Barkow Leibinger designed several buildings more than a decade ago. The Hoffman Estates facility employs 30 workers, with another 10 expected to come on board soon. About 15 of these workers are directly involved with the production line.

The structure’s two interlocked volumes sit under a single sloping roof that rises from 14 feet on the north to more than 42 feet on the south facing the tollway. Yet compared to the neighboring former Ameritech headquarters or the new Zurich NA headquarters a few miles to the east, the 57,000-square-feet Trumpf factory, made almost entirely of four materials—steel, glass, concrete, and wood, is just a tyke, size wise.

Visitors enter through a narrow vertical cut in the corrugated metal façade into a double-height reception area, where a large touchscreen presentation introduces visitors to the company’s production processes. You then ascend a staircase to the central control center that overlooks the building’s signature space, a column-free, 147-feet-wide production hall.

Eleven steel Vierendeel trusses—a truss that uses no diagonal elements—span the dramatic space, and support an upper level walkway to allow visitors to walk above the factory floor and observe processes at work. Each 12-feet-tall, 17-ton truss is made of about 240 individual pieces, precisely cut by Trumpf as a demonstration of the company’s large-scale production capabilities.

To the north is an office wing with a central enclosed courtyard and large auditorium for presentations. Concrete floors are polished and almost metal-like in their appearance.

Inside, steel is painted black—and can be found in the columns, trusses, and ceilings. For the exterior, the architects chose rusting Corten steel—like that found on the Daley Center—for its aesthetic and weather protective properties. Floor-to-ceiling glazing opens many spaces to extensive daylight and pleasant views.

Wood is used throughout. It’s utilitarian Douglas fir, rendered in vertical boards, with a charred and brushed finish. “It’s so graphic,” Barkow says of the unusual expression. Its grained patterns give the building a human scaled texture, and emit a pleasant aroma that seems more smokehouse or distillery than modern factory. While you enter the sparse-looking structure expecting something dark and foreboding, it winds up being a light, deeply tactile, and evocative experience—an artisanal architecture of and for the future.

Chicago’s industrial roots inspired Barkow Leibinger, but the architects didn’t worry about being too literal. “Someone told me the Rust Belt isn’t so rusty,” Barkow says. “But we did a rusty building anyway.”

Trumpf Smart Factory is that rare achievement—an architecture of real poetry. Barkow Leibinger have rendered a small palette of distinct, yet simple, materials into a lyrical composition that engages all of the senses—while maintaining a strict rational functional solution to what may be considered rather banal contemporary problems, a modern factory and sales facility. It’s a relatively small building, but it has large aspirations—that it meets and exceeds. More importantly, it provides lessons that Chicago developers, manufacturers, civic leaders and architects should take to heart.

Edward Keegan is a Chicago architect who practices, writes, broadcasts and teaches on architectural subjects.

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