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UI Labs’ Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation Institute, Designed by SOM, Opens in Chicago

Today, UI Labs’ new Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation Institute opens in Chicago. Called the DMDII for short, the institute is the first in the nation — and the first lab created under UI Labs’ leadership — that will unite key university and industry partners and enable them to collaborate side-by-side as they work to reinvent manufacturing for the 21st century. Skidmore, Owings, & Merrill LLP (SOM) led the planning, programming, and design of the 64,000-square-foot facility.

The DMDII is located on Chicago’s Goose Island, an emerging hub for industrial innovation situated in the center of the city. Proximity to downtown and to the Clybourn and Elston manufacturing corridors, availability of highly flexible high-bay manufacturing space, and opportunity for future growth made Goose Island an ideal site. The new facility occupies a renovated portion of an existing 285,000-square-foot manufacturing building. It provides a flexible technological infrastructure to support the lab’s purpose as a hub of digital manufacturing innovation, research and collaboration, and workforce development.

SOM began by transforming the building’s rear facade, glazing three of the building’s 14 structural bays from floor to ceiling in order to create a welcoming entrance and flood the space with daylight. Once inside, visitors step into a double-height open atrium — known as the town hall — which has been fit out as a work, social, and reception space. The town hall leads to a state-of-the-art classroom and a multipurpose room that can hold 75 and 200 people, respectively. These two rooms encourage both formal and informal learning and have been equipped with the technology required for collaboration with off-site partners.

Behind the town hall lies the heart of the facility: a 22,400-square-foot digital manufacturing floor, a collaborative engineering space, two open workspaces, a cafe/social hub, and permanent staff office, conferencing, and boardroom spaces. Flexibility and visual connectivity underpin the comprehensive design. Floor-to-ceiling ultra-transparent glass separates the manufacturing floor from the open workspaces and cafe. This wall visually connects manufacturing activity to the collaboration spaces and helps diffuse daylight from the existing clerestory windows deep into the facility, flooding the interior in natural light. Workspaces are programmed to accommodate variation in densities and types of furnishings. Modular workstations and breakout areas are arranged in an open studio setup to foster collaboration, make spatial re-programming simple, and keep sight lines across the facility clear. Staff offices, the boardroom, researchers’ offices, and conferencing areas are similarly flexible.

A comprehensive suite of prominent environmental graphics bring further cohesion, information and inspiration to the DMDII’s interior. In the town hall, these elements include a large-scale magnetic storyboard wall; two separate sculptural pieces that prominently display the names of UI Labs’ partner institutions; and wayfinding white stripes, painted on the concrete floor, that lead to different spaces within the facility. Coordinating graphics recognize room sponsors, and short, powerful statements located high up on the east, west, and south walls reinforce the DMDII’s aims.

All of the elements that compose the DMDII’s design help make the facility the showpiece for UI Labs and its groundbreaking work. The building is flexible, robust, and configured to support future expansion. It truly is the first of its kind, establishing a new typology for 21st-century manufacturing facilities that supports fast-paced, digital-age invention. SOM is extremely proud of its design.

About Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP

Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP (SOM) is one of the leading architecture, interior design, engineering, and urban planning firms in the world, with a 75-year reputation for design excellence and a portfolio that includes some of the most important architectural accomplishments of the 20th and 21st centuries. Since its inception, SOM has been a leader in the research and development of specialized technologies, new processes and innovative ideas, many of which have had a palpable and lasting impact on the design profession and the physical environment. The firm’s longstanding leadership in design and building technology has been honored with more than 1,700 awards for quality, innovation, and management. The American Institute of Architects has recognized SOM twice with its highest honor, the Architecture Firm Award — in 1962 and again in 1996. The firm maintains offices in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., London, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Mumbai, and Abu Dhabi.

About UI Labs

UI LABS solves large-scale industrial challenges by forming consortia of university, industry and civic partners who innovate and commercialize new technology solutions. UI LABS is developing a portfolio of applied research and commercialization labs that lead to a return on investment for its partners and improve local, regional and national competitiveness. Learn more at