Midtown Athletic Club in Chicago is not your typical health club. The recent expansion of Midtown Athletic Club and Hotel transformed what was the largest indoor tennis club in the country into the largest lifestyle center in the country. The hybrid health club and hotel exudes intentional details designed by DMAC Architecture, located in Evanston, IL.

According to Dwayne MacEwen, principal at DMAC Architecture, in designing the 250,000-square-foot expansion, the lobby needed to give a first impression and be consistent with the overall design. “In the lobby at Midtown, granite blocks are showcased to tell their story,” said MacEwen. “While considering the wall cladding for the lobby, we knew we wanted a natural material that would be unexpected. In the process, we came across some end blocks of Absolute Black granite, blasted form the mountainside with deep grooves and rough edges. These scarred blocks would normally be discarded, but we saw beauty and power in these wounds. They told a story. They would be the first of many stories hidden and revealed throughout Midtown’s design.”

An installation of this magnitude was an ambitious undertaking. The design team faced a huge challenge in sourcing the granite from the quarries within the U.S., so they located a quarry in Southern India that was willing to engage in this unusual experiment. Carefully selected blocks split from mountains were cut into panels that varied in thickness from 2 to 24 inches. The stone for the walls was supplied by Mahi Granites, in the Telangana mountain region of South India. The stone was purchased through A American Countertops and Floors. “We used 40 linear feet of granite blocks as the backdrops of the lobby and another 10 linear feet of block for the reception desk,” said MacEwen. “Each block panel was 2 feet wide, 9 feet tall and varied in thickness from 2 to 24 inches. The reception desk is comprised of four block panels, each 42 inches tall and of varied widths that were hand carved to fit a wood-milled desktop.”

In addition, the installation into an already finished space required engineering a support system for the granite panels. In total, 14 panels — weighing a total of 15 tons — were carefully selected and planned from the design vision that spanned and bridged geographical boundaries. Installing these large panels into the space and erecting them within a finished area, and engineering a support system for them required careful planning and constant supervision. “Rockey Structures, designed a heavily reinforced backup wall that the granite panels back up to and engineered a series of angles to tie back the granite panels to the wall,” said MacEwen. “The design team at DMAC Architecture made templates of the panels to sequence the layout, which assisted the installation process. The installation of these panels were carried by A American and required heavy logistical planning and sequencing of the panels.”

Selection of the stone and fabrication was done in April 2017 and the stone landed in Chicago in the month of July. The stone was installed on site in August of 2017. “Kavitha Marudadu, the project architect, made a special visit to the granite factory in India and personally selected each of the slabs that were cut to size to the specified dimensions,” said MacEwen. “She oversaw the fabrication of most of the panels before they were put in a container to ship to the U.S. Once the stone arrived, templates were made of the stone footprints and mocked up in DMAC’s office and sequenced. Each granite panel was carefully drawn to scale, superimposed with the photograph and used to test multiple design configurations. The in-ground light fixtures that would eventually light the wall were placed based on assumed dimensions and projections based on the mock-up, much before the stone was erected on site.”

The resulting outcome of the project created a space that provides memorable experiences for the users and patrons of the club. “Fundamental to each project’s success is an approach based upon identifying the distinguishing elements of each project, as well as generating a concept that carries through from the initial planning to the smallest detail,” said MacEwen. “We believe the careful development of ideas is more important than a style to initiate the design process. We can learn from history without replicating it. The entire installation transpired from a design vision and collective team effort that spanned and bridged geographical boundaries. We completed two large projects recently for the same client — Midtown Athletic Club and The Hotel at Midtown — that has brought us a lot of design accolades and are working on five more health club renovations for the same client.”  Q

Midtown Athletic Club

Chicago, IL

Architect: DMAC Architects, Evanston, IL

Quarrier: Mahi Granites Private Limited, India

Stone Supplier: A American Countertops and Floors, Niles, IL