Technological Institute

In 1939, inventor and railway supply manufacturer Walter P. Murphy gave $6,737,000 to establish the Northwestern University Technology Institute. Murphy meant for the Institute to offer a new kind of “cooperative” educational model for the field, where academic courses and practical application in industrial settings were closely integrated. Legend has it that Murphy decided to make Northwestern University the recipient of his gift as he was sitting in a barber's chair on Mackinac Island, Michigan. His initial gift was for hiring faculty and constructing a new building for the Institute; he later gave an additional 25 million dollars to establish an endowment for the Institute. The building was constructed to house laboratories, classrooms and offices for the four engineering divisions at Northwestern plus the Chemistry and Physics departments.

To make room for the new building, the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house and the Dearborn Observatory were moved, and the original Patten Gymnasium was demolished. Ground was broken for the new building on April 1, 1940, and the Technological Institute was dedicated during two days of ceremonies and industrial conferences on June 15 and 16, 1942. Murphy was unable to attend the dedication due to ill health; he died shortly afterward.

The building was designed by the architectural firm of Holabird and Root in the shape of two letter E's, placed back to back and joined by a central structure. As originally built, “Tech” had 350 rooms and 430,000 square feet of interior space, making it the largest building on the University’s Evanston Campus. In addition to the classroom and lab spaces in the six wings of the building, the central structure housed a 774-seat auditorium, lecture rooms, a library and offices. The exterior of the building is faced in Lannon stone, the same stone used on many other University buildings, and the architectural style echoed some of the Gothic details of the other buildings on campus. The building was designed, though, to be a modern and sturdy structure, with foundations to support specialized scientific equipment. The building is decorated inside and out with allegorical bas-reliefs by sculptor Edgar Miller depicting man’s ongoing efforts to conquer nature. During World War II the Technological Institute supported such military training programs as the Navy Radio School and the Navy College Training Program (the V-12 Program).

In 1961, construction began on two new wings, which were added to the eastern ends of the building, along with additions to the library and physics wing. The expansion, dedicated in October, 1963, was prompted by a $3.4 million contract awarded by the Advanced Research Projects Agency of the Department of Defense. The remainder of the cost was met with funds from the Murphy endowment, the National Institutes of Health, and the National Science Foundation. A new entrance terrace was dedicated in 1973. In 1999, a ten-year, $125 million renovation of the Technological Institute was completed. This major project, undertaken by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, included extensive reconstruction of the interior of the original 1940 structure, replacing the mechanical, plumbing, and electrical systems, and reconfiguring the laboratory and research space.

The Technological Institute also gained additional space from buildings constructed around it and connected to it. The Seeley G. Mudd Library for Science and Engineering, designed by Walter Netsch for Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, opened in 1977. In 1986 the Center for Catalysis and Surface Science was built at the south end of Tech’s east wing. Cook Hall, originally named the Materials and Life Sciences Building, designed by Perkins and Will, was added to what had become known as the "Technological Campus" in 1989.

Technological Institute, Exterior: Aerial View, pre-lakefill
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Quick Facts

Date: 1942

Architect: Holabird & Root

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