Architects discuss design of UI Business Instructional Facility

Architects discuss design of UI Business Instructional Facility

Native Argentinian and University of Illinois alumnus Cesar Pelli is the architect behind the new Business Instructional Facility, a $64 million building at the corner of Sixth Street and Gregory Drive in Champaign.

Considered one of the campus's first "green" buildings, the Business Instructional Facility features a literal green roof, complete with plants, solar panels to provide energy to the building and sophisticated lighting and air-handling systems. And its design features, such as floating staircases and a commons area lit naturally by four stories of windows, have turned a few heads.

The building opened to faculty and students in September, but the official grand opening ceremony featuring Pelli and university officials was to be held Friday.

On Thursday, The News-Gazette spoke with Pelli; his son, Rafael Pelli, also an architect on the project; and Craig Copeland, a senior associate with the firm Pelli Clarke Pelli.

Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects has designed buildings on the campuses of universities such as Yale, Rice and UCLA, as well as International Finance Center and the World Financial Center in New York City, Canary Wharf Towers in London and the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

This is the firm's first building at the UI. Below are excerpts from that interview:

News-Gazette: Tell me about the design process behind the building.

Cesar Pelli: For me, it was like coming home. ... If you look at Lincoln Hall you would notice ... it's its own design, its own character. We wanted to achieve a similar quality. This would be a family of its own character, its own quality.

Craig Copeland: Some of the environmental qualities of how daylight was shaped and captured became part of the architectural expression in the way that the historical precedents were melded together into a new expression.

Rafael Pelli: We coupled an attitude in the design of the building toward the streets and toward the sidewalks with an attitude toward the inside in the courtyard which was clearly more contemporary, a very large open glassy window onto the courtyard. ... (The commons area) is really the living room for this building. It's the central space, not only physically central, but it's central to the functioning and the use of the space. ... It's more drawing on the traditions of the great reading rooms or libraries than it is from a formal lobby, which is something you just walk through.

What (faculty and staff) repeatedly told us they were seeking was a sense of place, a community, a center to the College of Business. The College of Business is spread out across three buildings ... but they wanted one place for students who were in the program that that's where they would go to meet, to interact with other people. That's where they would have interviews with recruiters, where they would find student services.

The expression of the building was very much shaped around a sense of place.

Cesar Pelli: What made me happy before I came in this morning, the tables had been set up (in the commons area for an event) and the chairs were there and before they put on the tablecloths and the silverware on top there were at least 30 students using those tables with their notebooks and laptops. They immediately took possession of the space.

This has to be natural. You cannot put up signs that say, 'this is how you should use this space.'

News-Gazette: What were the challenges with designing a sustainable building?

Rafael Pelli: The biggest challenge in designing a good green building is making the commitment early on in the process and then incorporating suggestions from various different members of the design team. It's not simply led by the architects. In this case we had ... one suggestion to look at a thicker wall and triple-pane windows so to reduce the energy load on the exterior wall. We ended up doing that very early on. That meant in turn we could design smaller heating and cooling systems. The power of a good idea is very much diluted if it takes place too late in the process for you to be able to build on it. ... In the end, it was a very collaborative effort.

Craig Copeland: It's great that now sustainable design is not just something that is being applied or integrated as a way to make a building more efficient. It's bringing now more and more a quality beyond quantity of measurement.

Cesar Pelli: It's something people expect and desire.

News-Gazette: You've been involved with some high-profile buildings; how does this building compare?

Cesar Pelli: We try to design every project not necessarily to fit with other buildings we have designed. We want our buildings to fit in the place where they are built. That's where they belong. So we wanted this building to fit as comfortably as possible with this campus. ... I believe this we have achieved. ... We wanted the building to be delightful, free, exciting.

There's no question as you approach as you come up Sixth Street, it's a much fresher thing than any other building you have seen. As soon as you enter in this bright space, this is unlike any other space in the campus. This is a marvelous space.

News-Gazette: What was going on in your mind as you drove up?

Cesar Pelli: What we wanted above all was to create the heart for the School of Business, where students and faculty could easily gravitate to, to meet with professors, a chance to meet with other friends. This is a place that brings people together. ... It's not a place to play cards, but it has an academic purpose.

News-Gazette: What are some of the building's features that stand out to you?

Cesar Pelli: The roof is zinc. ... The windows are very insulated. There are two layers of glass (in the windows) and the third layer contains the Venetian blinds and that keeps the Venetian blinds clean. ... And the three layers of glass provide phenomenal thermal and acoustical insulation.

Craig Copeland: The two biggest features of the building are not necessarily things you're going to see. You'll experience them. They have to do with the energy usage and efficiency of the building. ... The other is the indoor air quality.

Rafael Pelli: The amount of wood in the central space. ... We wanted it to be a warm, inviting space.


Click here for a photo slide show and audio of the interview with Cesar Pelli, his son and fellow architect Rafael, and Craig Copeland, a senior associate at their firm.

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