Shirley Ryan AbilityLab

Shirley Ryan AbilityLab

Shirley Ryan AbilityLab

Translating Research in Real-time

The Shirley Ryan AbilityLab (formerly Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago) is the top rehabilitation destination for adults and children with the most severe, complex conditions — from traumatic brain and spinal cord injury to stroke, amputation and cancer.

We designed the 1.2 million-square-foot facility, in partnership with Gensler and in association with Clive Wilkinson Architects and EGG Office, as the first-ever “translational” research hospital in which clinicians, scientists, innovators and technologists work together in the same space — surrounding patients, discovering new approaches and applying (or “translating”) research real time. This translational approach means patients have 24/7 access to the brightest minds, the latest research, and the best opportunity for recovery.

As an innovator in the healthcare industry, we were responsible for the design and programming of healthcare and research environments and all translational planning concepts.


  • Each of five ability labs — Think + Speak Lab, Legs + Walking Lab, Arms + Hands Lab, Strength + Endurance Lab, and Pediatric Lab — provide for both active and visible "front stage" patient work with clinicians and researchers, as well as private, heads-down "back stage" space for analysis and planning.
  • An innovative “wet” lab allows researchers to study diseases, conditions and injuries that can only be solved at the cellular level. Scientists are able to increase the number and speed of discoveries because they are co-located with clinical teams and patients.
  • Design elements play a vital role in patients’ therapy and recovery. Curved walls, for example, allow for more natural and “frictionless” movement, especially for people with physical disabilities and those who use wheelchairs for mobility.
  • The 10th floor Sky Lobby is the welcome center and communal hub with beautiful therapy gardens. The floor’s vertical volume is accented by a tapered ceiling plane that rises as it moves toward the transparent curtain wall that wraps the floor, maximizing daylight and expansive views.
  • The thoughtful design of space unites with bold and motivating interior graphics and wayfinding to support Shirley Ryan AbilityLab’s brand.
  • Color climbs to a crescendo as all pathways focus on the collaborative zone of the ability labs. Each lab is defined by its specialty and graphics, and integrated to create opportunities for measurement and metrics, thus reinforcing that “therapy happens everywhere and progress is measured in everything.”
  • With an average stay of 24 days, inpatient rooms were designed to provide visual access to restrooms, places for personal keepsakes and sweeping views of the city oriented to encourage movement and progress.
  • Extensive landscaping and green space at both the street-level and throughout the upper spaces afford access to gardens. A green roof system tops the building. These features promote a healing environment and provide practical benefits such as the absorption of heat at the roof and the diversion of rainwater from entering the city sewers.
Shirley Ryan AbilityLab
Shirley Ryan AbilityLab

Chicago, IL
United States

1,200,000 SF (111,484 m²)


Design Awards, Merit Award (2018)
Civic/Institutional Category
American Institute of Architects, Los Angeles Chapter
Illumination Award of Merit (2018)
Illuminating Engineering Society
Interiors Awards, Winner (2018)
Healthcare Category
Contract Magazine
American Architecture Award, Winner (2018)
The Chicago Athenaeum
IDEA Honor Awards, Winner (2018)
Healthcare Category
International Interior Design Association, Great Plains Chapter
A+ Awards, Popular Choice Winner (2018)
Architecture + Technology Category
Chicago Building Congress Merit Awards, Winner (2018)
New Construction Over $55M
Chicago Building Congress
IDEA Honor Awards, Best of Show (2018)
International Interior Design Association, Great Plains Chapter
Excellence in Design, Merit Award (2018)
Large Commercial Category
American Institute of Architects, Central States Region
RED Awards, Winner (2018)
Healthcare Category
International Interior Design Association, Illinois Chapter
Healthcare Design Showcase Awards, Award of Merit (2018)
Healthcare Design Magazine
Best Projects Awards, Award of Merit (2017)
Health Care Category
Engineering News-Record Midwest
Best of the Year Awards, Winner (2017)
Health & Wellness Category
Interior Design Magazine