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Inside Hotel EMC2: Streeterville’s newly-opened ‘art and science’ themed hotel

The 21-story downtown hotel and restaurant opened its doors earlier this summer

Billed as the first hotel of its kind “geared toward both left- and right-brained guests,” Streeterville’s new Hotel EMC2 takes a novel approach towards luxury hospitality. Located at 228 E. Ontario Street, the 195-room development from the Marriott Autograph Collection presents itself as a unique expression of art intersecting with science. Even the project’s name is a not-so-subtle nod to Albert Einstein's equation related to special relativity. But is the unusual concept a masterstroke of design genius or a bunch of public relations babble?


“It was a passion project,” explained the hotel’s creator and project developer Scott D. Greenberg of ECD Company and SMASHotels. “I thought about this area, next to Northwestern and the research labs and medical school and all this technology. I wanted a concept that would speak to that, but I wanted it to also be a luxury hotel. That’s what I approached Autograph Collection with and they got excited about the idea.”

While the theme of art meeting science influences practically every aspect of Hotel EMC2’s design, the project doesn’t pretend to be a serious gallery or museum. “It’s accessible. The finishes are sophisticated and high-end, but yet everything is at a counter-point with things that are playful, said Greenberg.” For example, guests can crank the handle on a 19th century zoetrope machine in the lobby to create a moving image of a skater. “There’s a story behind the details.”

One of the first and perhaps largest challenges with the project was the narrow 60 by 110-foot site. “Because it is a lot line condition, the opportunities in designing the exterior really became about graphics, explained architect Jackie Koo. “With the site size, you can’t really build zoomy shapes or remove huge chunks. So for us, the project was really a graphic-wrapping study.” The base of Hotel EMC2 sports a geometric pattern that borrows its pattern from a four-dimensional representation of a cube known as a Tesseract.

Koo and her team also had the goal of creating “monumental spaces” within a structure that occupies a footprint no bigger than some single family homes. While this is seen in the lobby entrance with its kinetic-looking light fixtures suspended high overhead by cords attached to weights and pulleys, it is most dramatically experienced in the Albert—the hotel’s high-ceilinged restaurant.

Offering a contemporary American menu, the 120-seat dining room occupies the majority of Hotel EMC2’s ground floor and centers on a copper-colored bar topped by an elaborate “infusary.” Resembling a giant scientific experiment, the chandelier-like collection of jars and tubes will be used to infuse various alcohols with fruits, herbs, and other flavors. The upper portion of the soaring room is lined with surrealist artwork.

“Two-story spaces can sometimes be uncomfortable for diners so the question becomes how do you bring scale down to guests while introducing the art and science themes,” said architect Greg Keffer of the Rockwell Group, the firm that oversaw Hotel EMC2’s interior.

The answer was to create a grand bookshelf made up of smaller, repurposed furniture pieces. More than just an object within the space, the installation functions as a staircase leading to a mezzanine level that overlooks the dining room and connects to meeting rooms. “It provides a sense of exploration,” Keffer continued. “While the space itself is one grand gesture, these different areas provide these sort of stacked, nested experiences.”

As an accent piece, the bookshelf staircase is indeed impressive. Sort of Inception meets Harry Potter, the passageway to the mezzanine is pleasantly disorienting and feels as if you are actually inside a piece of furniture.

The hotel offers two event spaces—both adorned with scientific formulae and fractal art—as well as an elevated outdoor space overlooking Ontario. Guest rooms are accessed via unique color-coded elevators that announce their arrival with animated graphics showing approaching storm clouds.

Even the hallways leading to the rooms foster a sense of playfulness and curiosity. Guests discover their room numbers behind backlit magnifying glass and can watch digital art be created on monitors as they wait for the elevators.

Inspired by 1920s laboratories, Hotel EMC2’s 195 guest rooms are well-appointed and full of unusual details. For instance, guests can drop their smartphones into a metallic, horn-shaped analog sound amplifier that looks straight out of the classic science fiction novels of Jules Verne.

Each room’s “wet lab” (AKA bathroom) is prominently on display thanks to a glass shower serving as a room partition. The glassiness makes the rooms appear larger and also provides a cool infinity reflection effect with the backlit bathroom mirror. A test tube-like nightlight is another cool touch. When it comes time for privacy, a curtain lined in cursive poetry can be drawn around the shower—blocking it off from the sleeping area.

The rooms are also equipped with smart televisions and Amazon Alexa devices. The in-room technology can be used for anything from a restaurant recommendation to summoning a robot from the front desk to deliver a toothbrush.

Chicago’s Hotel EMC2 is certainly a different kind of luxury hotel offering. While the question of whether technology-oriented travelers will specifically seek the EMC2 out is tough to answer, guests that do choose to stay there will find the development a refreshing departure from the norm. As for curious Chicago locals, our sister site Eater Chicago reports that The Albert will begin offering brunch service Saturday, July 8th.