Located in the middle of the Yoga studio at the new Midtown Athletic Club in Chicago are two sculpted Bodhi trees that were born from a design challenge to camouflage steel columns and diagonal bracing. Together the trees illustrate both a design intention as well as a symbolic expression. Initially designed to be a 3-story building, the Midtown Athletic Club’s program evolved during construction adding two more floors. The decision required a change from concrete structure to steel framing with diagonal bracing that would support the taller building. As a result, two columns and a diagonal brace were embedded within the Yoga space, forcing architects to come up with a solution to this new challenge. How to transform these intrusive structural elements into a meaningful design feature?
A Bodhi or Wisdom Tree is an important symbol in Buddhism as it represents the place of Buddha’s enlightenment. It is also a multi-layered rich and complex symbol of the self and its journey toward enlightenment. An artistic expression of this tree was considered most fitting in Samadhi, which refers to a state of meditative consciousness. Inspired by the symbolism, the team envisioned two trees emerging from the floor and disappearing into the ceiling. Working with artist Alex Morales, the steel columns and bracing were clad in strips of re-purposed plywood, dressing the trunk in up to six different wood species to provide layering and texture. Branches naturally grow out into limbs, stems and twigs for a delicate balance in space, blurring the boundaries between art and architecture. From the moment you step into the Yoga studio, you know you’re in a mystical place. The walls float with indirect lighting above and below, creating an aura of timelessness, and the Bodhi Trees take you to another world. With a quiet presence, the trees settle the mind and fade into the space.
The 250,000 sf expansion of the Midtown Athletic Club & Hotel in Chicago transformed what was the largest indoor tennis club in the country to the largest lifestyle center in the country. The new design pushes the programmatic envelope bundling several typologies into one building. Together, the club and hotel provide active travelers a high-end fitness experience with boutique hospitality.