The Idealist

Hotel EMC2, where art meets science in Chicago

EMC2 Hotel

Named after Einstein’s famous theory of relativity, this new 21-storey hotel is aptly situated near the Northwestern University’s research labs and medical school and Chicago’s main tech hub. It’s this fusion of science, innovation and art that has driven the design concept through collaborators David Rockwell and his team with Koo & Associates.

The Rockwell Group are used to merging architecture, theatre, craftsmanship and technology to create unique narratives for their work and this project is another trademark example of their style. Rockwell Group Partner and Studio Leader on this project, Greg Keffer says,

“Through Hotel EMC2, Rockwell Group wanted to capture a moment produced by the intersecting worlds of art and science. The design concept we have created celebrates and brings to life their sense of discovery, creativity and innovation and invites visitors to explore.”

An eclectic entrance

Guests are met with the spirit of discovery when entering the hotel lobby with a two-volume centre-piece, an assemblage of bookcases piled on top of each other like an unexplored attic or a modern day cabinet of curiosities.

Book-cased lined walls extend further into the lobby and reception area creating a series of curios nooks and crannies as places of exploration and relaxation grouped with eclectic furniture, overdyed rugs and quirky objects.

Hotel EMC2_LobbyWorks of art

A curated collection of art from local and international artists lines the walls within the public spaces adding personality and interest to the lobby and restaurant. The backdrop for the reception area is a folding fabric screen depicting a dream-like state of cloud formations, a custom design by Rockwell Group in a bright polished rose gold and glass. Within the lift there are two-way mirrors and a digital art installation of ink dropping from above displayed on concealed video screens.

The Archive lounge and event space

The second floor, accessed by an interior staircase in a bookcase, leads to the Archive lounge and event space. The lounge is a comfortable play space with plush seating and modern furnishings in further rich hues of rose gold and shades of brown and green. A custom oversized vintage steamer trunk opens to reveal a breakfast space in the morning and a cocktail bar at night. To the side, a glass-walled multi-purpose room overlooks the restaurant’s communal kitchen below. This flexible space can be used a dining room with the lounge reconfigured as a VIP or pre-function space for meetings and events.

Hotel EMC2_Lobby

The Albert restaurant

The double-height 120 seat restaurant is designed to create a lively casual neighbourhood atmosphere made up of cosy grouped seating whilst behind ribbed glass panels, chef’s tables inside a large expo kitchen offer a theatrical dining experience. In the mornings, hotel guests have breakfast here, entering the space via a secret bookcase entrance. The bar area explores the synthesis of science and art with a custom chandelier comprised of glass cylinders filled with infused liquors suspended over a copper and enamel-clad bar with art work in various stages of completion lines the back wall.

EMC2_AlbertGuest rooms

Copper details are continued in the guest room as frames for large artworks above the bed and bathrooms having copper tubing towel rails, vanity unit and a shower head with exposed pipes. A brass phonograph-style speaker, rotating wooden desk drawers and  adjustable lamps are also supported by a copper pole adhering to the vintage, quirky, playful design emanating throughout Hotel EMC2.

EMC2_GuestroomADDRESS: 228 E Ontario St, Chicago, IL 60611, USA

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All photos courtesy of Michael Kleinberg


  • Helen is a fabric designer and lives with her husband and two sons near Bath. She grew up by the sea in Cornwall and is reinventing a modern coastal look of interiors with her debut collection in a minimal graphic design inspired style. Passionate about pattern, Helen is constantly capturing images on her phone for potential design inspiration.

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