A sight of the whole site

URBANA — Occupying two square blocks, Krannert Center for the Performing Arts is impossible for anyone to take in as a whole as they walk or drive by.

Now, a new architecture model of the complex — created by recent University of Illinois master's graduate Nicholas Berchtold — gives an impressive bird's-eye view.

"The model enables a person to sense the scope and brilliance of (architect) Max Abramovitz's elegant and visionary design in whole," says Krannert director Mike Ross.

The model has been installed in the Krannert lobby and will remain there indefinitely, helping celebrate the center's 45th anniversary this year.

But Ross and others in the UI College of Fine and Applied Arts hope the model will do something bigger: inspire people to give money to help revitalize and enhance the five-theater complex.

"It's too early to know where that process might lead but it's exciting to think about," Ross said. "Herman and Ellnora Krannert made something extraordinary possible. It's our responsibility to take care of it and to do all we can to ensure its impact on future generations."

An industrialist, Herman Krannert and his wife, Ellnora, for whom Krannert's biennial guitar festival is named, gave the university $16 million to build a performing arts center on campus.

It opened in April 1969 to acclaim from many quarters, including The New York Times. One of its critics called Krannert "one of the most ingeniously worked out art complexes anywhere,"

Ross said he and his staff began thinking several years ago about the center's 50th anniversary in 2019, as well as future programming and the facility itself.

During brainstorming sessions, they talked about how music, theater and dance — and the ways they are taught — are evolving.

They discussed how artist-audience connections are changing, and noted the trends in interdisciplinary collaboration, rapidly changing technology and social mores.

All of that led to more talk about enhancements that might be needed to accommodate the trends for the 50th anniversary and beyond, Ross said.

No plans have been drawn up yet. Edward Feser, dean of the College of Fine and Applied Arts, of which Krannert is a unit, said any additions to the center would have to strengthen and not diminish UI alumnus Abramovitz's design.

"It's very speculative at this point, but there's no question we want to expand venues for dance and the performing arts," Feser said.

The college also wants to improve Krannert's facade, infrastructure and ability to handle more technology. In turn, that would help Fine and Applied Arts faculty push the envelope in research and teaching in multidisclipinary areas, Feser said.

It was Feser's colleague, Gaines Hall, associate dean of the College of Fine and Applied Arts, who suggested a smart first step would be a high-quality, architecture scale model to help people better visualize Krannert's scope.

Hall, who joined the UI earlier as an architecture professor, oversaw the work of Berchtold, who earned his master's degree from the UI's School of Architecture.

"I thought he did a great job," Hall said. "It's what I hoped for but more than I expected to get."

In addition to being viewed by the public, Berchtold's model will be shown off to Krannert donors at an event for them this evening.

"As they say, the proof is in the pudding," Ross said. "I can't wait to see people's reactions when they see Nick's handiwork."

About the architect

— Nicholas Berchtold, who had just finished his UI master's degree in architecture, spent last summer building the Krannert Center model on a scale of 1/8 inch to 1 foot. He now digitally fabricates architecture models for Chicago's Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture.

— His Krannert model is roughly 8-feet by 8-feet in size, with a "skirt" and podium built of cherry wood. The model was constructed in four parts so it could be more easily moved. "It took me three months or somewhere around 500 hours to build over my summer break," Berchtold said.

— The only specs Berchtold received were the original hand-drawn construction documents for the Krannert complex and theaters. "It was hard to work off of but I ended up digitizing the documents and created a 3-D model," he said.

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