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Architecture of the Spertus Building

Architecture of the Spertus Building

Happy tenth birthday to the iconic, award-winning, environmentally sustainable Spertus Institute building!

Although it seems like yesterday, it has been ten years since Spertus Institute opened its new facility at 610 S. Michigan Avenue, unveiling its faceted window into the world of Jewish learning. This year we are celebrating in partnership with our colleagues and friends at Krueck + Sexton Architects, who are responsible for the the building’s innovative design.

The faceted glass façade of Spertus Institute’s Michigan Avenue facility offers a window into world of Jewish learning and culture. Designed by the award-winning, Chicago-based Krueck & Sexton Architects, the innovative, environmentally sustainable Spertus Institute building opened at 610 S. Michigan Avenue in November 2007. The building features interconnected interior spaces and one-of-a-kind, ten-story faceted window wall that provides spectacular views of the Chicago skyline, Grant Park, Millennium Park, and Lake Michigan.

The window wall is built from 726 individual pieces of glass in 556 different shapes. By its transparency, the façade announces the accessible and public nature of Spertus, beckoning visitors to enter and explore the educational and cultural offerings within.

Like the surrounding buildings, many constructed in the period of tremendous architectural innovation that followed the Chicago fire, this building is forward-looking in its design and use of materials, while maintaining respect for its important setting. The stone, brick, and terracotta grid of the streetwall tightly frame the narrow glass façade, and it is this dynamic that compels the folding and movement of the glass. At the same time, the average size of each of the façade's individual panes of glass is consistent with the standard size of the windows in the buildings up and down Michigan Avenue.

Like the bays of its 19th- and 20th-century neighbors, the facets that create the façade’s dynamic crystalline form allow light to extend into the narrow building, while expanding the views enjoyed from inside. 

This emphasis on light echoes the Spertus logo, a flame accompanied by the biblical phrase yehi or, Hebrew for "let there be light," symbolizing both physical light and the light of learning.

Technology and Design

The geometry of the façade is unique because the surface is constantly tilting in three dimensions, resulting in individual units of glass that are parallelograms rather than rectangles. Only recently has it become possible to delineate and engineer a shape with the complexity of this wall.

Advancements in material engineering and research allow an insulated glass unit and a 1" silicone joint to be the only two components keeping wind and moisture from entering the building. The lightness of the wall and absolute minimal use of materials offer great efficiency and sustainability.

Glass Façade Technical Details

Window Wall Size
161' tall (10 stories) x 80' wide

Glass Size
726 individual pieces of 556 shapes with a typical size of 4'-4" x 7'-0"

Glass Specifications
1.375" insulated unit with 0.375" low-iron outer lite (single pane) of glass, a 0.5" air space and a 0.5" laminated interior lite made up of two 0.25" lites laminated together

Glass Coatings
Interior surface of the outer lite of glass has a low-E (low emissivity) coating and a 40% ceramic frit pattern made up of 0.125" white dots

Glass manufactured by Viracon of Owatonna, MN
Installation by Arcadia of Northbrook, IL
Consulting by Will Shepphird of Shepphird Associates of Los Angeles, CA

Custom shaded aluminum mullion spanning 14' on floors 1 through 8 and 21' on floors 9 and 10

Every year Spertus hires a window washing company to clean the beautiful glass facade. Our building is 10 stories 161ft tall. It's a great photo opportunity for passers-by to witness the delicate dance of the washers.

Watch now

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Do you have photos of 610 that you’d like to share? Tag them #610at10 on your favorite social media or send it to!and we’ll find them and share them here.

Environmental Sustainability

Environmental stewardship is embodied in the Jewish tenets of bal tashchit or “do not destroy or waste” and tikkun olam or “repair of the world.” Through sustainable design and energy-efficient operations, the new Spertus honors these concepts as well as Chicago’s green initiatives.

The building’s glass façade uses a high-performance coating, a fritted dot pattern, and internal shades to control heat gain and glare. A 6,700-square-foot green roof (planted with special vegetation) manages storm water, absorbs air pollution, and keeps the building cool in the summer, helping mitigate the urban heat effect, a phenomenon that causes the city to be 2 to 10 degrees hotter than nearby rural areas.

Through measures including high performance lighting and demand-based ventilation, the building achieves a 29% reduce in energy consumption, resulting in 550 tons of avoided CO2 per year. Water-saving fixtures are used throughout, and healthy materials, high-efficiency air filtration, and special humidity controls provide quality indoor air for the welfare of visitors, students, and staff, as well as preservation of the Institute's collections.

Spertus was awarded the Silver Level of the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Rating System®, a voluntary, consensus-based standard for sustainable buildings.

Watch a Chicago Architecture Foundation interview with Tom Jacobs, Principal for Krueck + Sexton Architects. MORE>

These organizations were useful to Spertus as we realized this project: