Photographer: Robert R. Gigliotti 

Wolff Landscape Architecture
The University of Chicago, Law School Reflecting Pool; Chicago, IL

Client: The University of Chicago
Architect: Nagle Hartay Danker Kagan McKay Penney Architects, Ltd.
Engineers: Prism Engineering, Ltd.; Weber Consultants, Ltd.
Contractor: Berglund Construction
Consultant: Delta Fountains
Category: Memorable Landscapes

The Law School complex at the University of Chicago designed by Eero Saarinen in the late 1950s is a landmark of modernism. Saarinen included a reflecting pool to mirror the surrounding architecture at the center of the quadrangle. Almost 40 years old, the pool showed significant degradation and the University recognized the need to upgrade the space to better align the law school's physical environment with its prominent reputation.

The restoration goal was twofold: improve the appearance of the reflecting pool and courtyard, while respecting the original and historic Saarinen design. The exploration of multiple alternatives based upon cost and maintenance considerations led the landscape architect to design a ‘zero depth' pool solution. Black granite paving is covered by a quarter-inch film of water creating the effect of a mirror-like sheet to reflect the sky and buildings. This design also enhances the functionality of the space - when not in use, it appears as a dark stone plaza, rather than an empty basin.

While the end result is a smooth, still, mirror-like water surface, that outcome was not without technical challenges. For the design to succeed, it was absolutely essential to achieve a uniform elevation of the stone pavers over the 150' x 87' pool. The multi-disciplinary team collaboration led to the design of a sophisticated pedestal support system that allows for adjustments of the individual pavers within a tolerance of one-sixteenth inch or less. So as not
to disturb the surface, the recirculation system employs a water plenum below the entire pool. With the exception of the outermost row of pavers, water is forced slowly up and through the granite paver joints, giving the appearance of a motionless sheet of water.

The courtyard and pool restoration has created an attractive and inviting environment for students, faculty, and staff; and is a subtle, but important, aid to the University's recruitment efforts.