Cook County Hospital – Adaptive Reuse

Originally completed in 1914, the Cook County Hospital building is a designated Chicago Landmark and once stood as the symbolic heart of the Illinois Medical District healthcare community. Vacant since 2002, the building had fallen into a severe state of disrepair and was threatened with demolition. Instead, SOM led a design-build collaboration for general contractor Walsh Construction, with Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates and interior designers KOO, to carefully preserve, restore, and adapt the former hospital building to meet the changing needs of the neighborhood with a new hotel, food hall, medical offices, and community spaces.

Not only a monumental example of the neoclassical Beaux-Arts style, Cook County Hospital has an illustrious history. Many medical advances took place here, including the development of the first blood bank in the United States, and the hospital was long known as “Chicago's Ellis Island” for its devoted treatment of poor communities and immigrants to the city.

When the rehabilitation project began in 2018, deferred maintenance, exposure to the elements, and vandalism had caused severe deterioration to the exterior and interior of the building. The restoration work focused first on repairing the neoclassical-style exterior, which involved the replacement of more than 4,500 pieces of terra cotta on the facade.

A sliver-thin canopy of steel and glass marks the entrance to the building, replacing a former bulky addition that diminished the integrity of the historic facade. Inside, SOM restored the lobby to its original height of 25 feet. Original red terrazzo flooring and ornate Beaux-Arts molding immediately evoke the building’s original grandeur. SOM and KOO took advantage of the building's relatively thin footprint to configure 210 hotel rooms filled with natural light. Some of the more unusual spaces within the former hospital, including lofty operating rooms, were transformed into distinctive guest rooms.

The first of several phases of redevelopment, the restored Cook County Hospital building is the keystone for a vibrant, mixed-use, transit-oriented district. It revitalizes the surrounding Illinois Medical District and provides much needed amenities to support the needs of medical workers, patients, and their families. SOM is involved in the ongoing planning and study of these future phases.