The Body Electric

Cannon Design channels the connections of the human body into a light-filled office for UHC, a Chicago-based medical networking association.

by Adam Moore



When University HealthSystems Consortium (UHC) officials began speaking with Cannon Design about the organization’s desire to relocate from the suburbs of Chicago into the city itself, there were several notable requirements.

As a networking association dedicated to the sharing of information between some of the most prestigious academic medical centers in the country, the new space needed to be open and accessible to members, and facilitate collaboration among staffers. But perhaps more importantly, the space also needed to represent UHC’s growing presence within its industry.

“They wanted to have a space that was impressive, inspirational and impactful,” says Mark Hirons, principal with Cannon Design. “The CEO [Irene Thompson] thought this was a truly transformational opportunity for the company—not only to change the location, but the branding—and saw how important the space could be as a component of that.”

Cannon’s design team responded with a stimulating space that evokes the nervous, respiratory and skeletal systems of the body, and fosters connections not just between employees, but among the organization’s entire membership.

Stepping off the elevators of one of Chicago’s newest high-rise buildings, one enters the central nervous system of UHC’s headquarters. Ceiling-mounted light fixtures, whose forms allude to firing synapses, reflect light off of the high-gloss walls and floor, creating the sensation that one is surrounded by impulses of light.

This sensation extends beyond the elevator lobby and pushes occupants and visitors into the reception area, which maintains the same sleek, polished look while adding five movable screens inspired by the connections of neurons. The screens, made with full-height glass panels and a white millwork structure, are capable of forming a private anteroom for the adjacent boardroom; they can also be hidden in a pocket in the wall, allowing the reception area to exist as one large, open area.

As the center for UHC’s strategic planning activities, the boardroom has been envisioned as the cortex of the space. A glass partition between an adjacent kitchen and the boardroom features a series of large eyes, meant to reflect the vision of the organization; the irises form a foundational palette of greens, blues and browns for the space.

At the nucleus of the staff experience is a large café. Open areas with spacious tables are provided for collaborative meetings, while a curved section, outfitted with a banquette and backed by a dotted glass mosaic wall designed to resemble bronchi, provides space for more personal conversations or quiet work. Large windows provide relaxing, expansive views of the city, while allowing light deep into the floorplate.

The main work areas of the UHC headquarters maintain the same open and transparent feel with the use of lower height screens between workstations and a curvaceous perforated metal ceiling.

“With the perforated metal ceiling, you’re actually getting the reflectivity up on that ceiling, and it opens up the space dramatically,” Hirons explains. “By having the acoustic ceiling curve and wrap back toward the corners, it’s helping create that organic aspect of how you’re coming off the core again, but it’s separating that space so it doesn’t just feel like one wide-open workstation.”

In order to accommodate workers who might be coming from academic or medical backgrounds and aren’t necessarily used to open layouts, the design team included upgraded finishes within workstations and incorporated storage elements that create a sense of privacy. Smaller café areas as well as conference spaces have also been positioned near the main work areas to provide supplemental collaboration spaces.

With a target of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Silver certification, UHC’s new space has been designed to create a healthy workplace, as well as put forward a new, more professional face for the organization as a whole. From the large amount of daylight to the modern furnishings found throughout, the space vividly illustrates what a new look can do for a brand.

“Many times employees will bring guests there, and they’ve had opening events where they’ve filled up the entire space with people,” says Hirons. “They are using it as a central connector, if you will, to really bring their culture to life.”


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university healthsystems consortium
155 North Wacker Dr.
Chicago, IL 60606
(312) 775-4100


project team
Cannon Design
111 West Washington St.
Suite 2100
Chicago, IL 60602
(312) 332-9600


Christopher Barrett